Frederick County Council Hears Presentation On Police Accountability Board Bill

Members also discuss proposed changes to the Board of Health.

Frederick, Md (KM) An overview of an ordinance to establish a police accountability board was provided Tuesday to the Frederick County Council.

Under the bill, the police accountability board would hold quarterly meetings with law enforcement agencies to work on ways to improve policing in the county. It would also appoint civilian members to Charging Committees and trial boards, and receive complaints about officer misconduct. And on or before December 31st, the board would submit a report to the County Council, the County Executive and each municipality in Frederick County which has a police force on  disciplinary trends,  and make recommendations.

The board would consist of five members who have a familiarity or experience with human resources, the operation of a government agency, criminal justice agency or community service organizations. They must undergo  a rigorous vetting process which includes intensive in-person interview with the County Executive or that person’s designee. There would also be background research to make sure each member is free of political bias, and can make objective decisions free of outside influence.

State law does not allow active police officers to be members of this board.

“This has been a process undertaken by the County Executive not because there’s some scheme to do something,” says Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum, who was explaining how this proposed legislation was crafted. “This is a requirement under state law. The General Assembly passed this down. It’s happening in every county government. And early on, the County Executive decided the best way to deal with this was to work collaboratively.”

The proposed legislation also says the Board will appoint members of the charging committee and any trial board. But Councilman Steve McKay said the state law is not very specific about how that’s done. “It’s seems like that the authority to create that by the police accountability board needs to stipulated someplace, if not in the state law, than in the bill,” he said. “It can’t spring up organically, particularly if the Executive needs to appoint two members. So I think that authority needs to be established.”

This is expected to be the first of many discussions about this bill,, and it will probably undergo changes before it’s passed by the Council. It will cover the Sheriff’s Office, the Frederick Police, and the Thurmont and Brunswick Police Departments.

The County is required to have this police accountability board up and running by July 1st.

The County Executive has scheduled a town hall meeting on this issue for Monday, January 24th beginning at 7:00 PM.

Board of Health

The Council also discussed a bill on Tuesday to make changes to the Board of Health. Its membership currently consists of the County Council and the County Executive, and is chaired by the Health Officer, Dr. Barbara Brookmyer. Proposed legislation would increase the board’s membership to 13, and include four licensed health care providers, an expert on environmental health, one member from the Chamber of Commerce, an active farmer or owner of a farm operation; the Superintendent of Schools, or a designee; two members from the community at large; and one member of the County Council who would be a non-voting member.

One of the co-sponsors of the bill is Councilman Jerry Donald. “Frederick County is a place that has literally thousands of scientists and health professionals,” he said.

Councilman Kai Hagen is also a co-sponsor. He says he’s not an expert on health issues. “We have tried our best to become educated, to stay informed, to make responsible decisions, to engage in ail of discussions, to understand the issue,” he says.

But Councilman Phil Dacey says he’s opposed to changes in the Board of Health. “I’m going to strongly disagree with the whole concept to have an unelected, unaccountable board, making what I think are political decisions.” he said.

However, Councilman Steve McKay said having representation from the medical profession is  a good idea. “We’re so often criticized from both spectrums–it’s not a partisan criticism–people with legitimate complaints that we’re making these decisions, and none of us knows a damn thing about–other than Dr. Brookmyer–about public health issues,” he said.

McKay also said having 13 members might make the new Board a bit unwieldy.

Council President MC Keegan-Ayer says she’s concerned with so many unelected members of the new board, its decisions could not be overridden. “And I still have issues with granting a board that is appointed the power of making decisions that could not be in some way, shape or form, overridden, curtailed, somehow or another managed by elected officials who are more answerable to the public immediately,”: she said.

The two co-sponsors are expected to rework the bill and bring it back for further discussion and a public hearing.

The Board of Health has scheduled a meeting for Thursday, January 13th beginning at 6:00 PM.

By Kevin McManus