A dispute over a monument on the grounds of the Talbot County courthouse that honors Confederate soldiers has snowballed into a controversy over open meetings and government transparency.
A Talbot County Council closed-door meeting where council members decided against removing the “Talbot Boys” monument — which commemorates 84 county residents who died during the Civil War fighting for the Confederacy — from the county courthouse grounds in Easton violated Maryland’s Open Meetings Act, according to a May 4 ruling by the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board.
The debate arose last year when the Talbot County NAACP branch requested the county remove the monument and replace it with one dedicated to both Confederate and Union soldiers.
“We are elated by the opinion from the Opening Meeting Compliance Board in recognizing that our elected county officials have an obligation to conduct all business openly in front of its constituent base,” Richard Potter, Talbot NAACP president, said in a press release. “We will now wait to see how the council plans to rectify this violation.”
The county had argued control of county-owned property is an “administrative function” exempt from the Open Meetings Act and, in voting against the monument removal, the county council was simply “administering” a 2004 policy regarding historic monuments.
The compliance board disagreed, however, ruling the policy only refers to the placement of new monuments, meaning it doesn’t give the council standards for determining whether to remove an existing one.
The ACLU of Maryland joined the Talbot County NAACP branch in filing a complaint with the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board.
“We are so pleased that the Open Meetings Compliance Board recognized the significant policy-making implications of the Talbot County Council’s decision on this core racial justice issue, and has told the county, in no uncertain terms, that the people have a right to demand that their elected officials conduct the public’s business in public,” Deborah Jeon, the ACLU of Maryland’s legal director, said in a statement.