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Meeting Announcements and Handouts
information from Thursday, September 15, 2016 Joint Meeting with the Municipal Clerks Association
At the Kentlands Mansion, 320 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878


The Thursday, September 15, 2016 MMAA meeting was held at the Kentlands Mansion in the City of Gaithersburg, 320 Kent Square Road, and was a joint meeting with the Maryland Municipal Clerks Association. The meeting was conducted under a joint agenda including introductions, a report from both the Clerks and Attorneys, and presentations by MMAA members. Several noted that they believe this may have been the first joint meeting, and expressed the hope that the groups would continue periodic joint meetings.

The meeting was called to order at 10:05 a.m. Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman and City Manager Tony Tomasello welcomed everyone. After introductions and a report from the Maryland Municipal Clerks Association, Brynja Booth, President, welcomed everyone and gave a brief report on the MMAA, followed by presentations.

1. MMAA Update. Brynja noted that the Code Enforcement and Municipal Infractions Manual, presented first at the May 6, 2016 MMAA meeting, was moving towards publication, and thanked members for their input and comments, as well as their support. Frank Johnson, who drafted the Manual, gave a brief overview and noted MML would probably be taking the lead in publication, both in having print copies and an online version, and had asked that the MMAA and the Code Enforcement and Zoning Officials Association support and endorse the manual. MMAA members present gave consensus support for doing so. Frank also noted the Manual draft had been updated since the initial versions, based on comments received and review for any errors, and that after multiple reviews the Manual was now close to final form.

2. Minutes of the June 27, 2016 MMAA meeting were unanimously approved, on motion by Jason DeLoach, which was seconded by Linda Perlman.

3. Jason DeLoach, Treasurer, reported that the MMAA financial balance is $5,120.00, and that dues bills have been sent to all members for 2016/2017, with excellent responses so far. No questions were raised and the treasurer’s report was approved by consensus.

4. For the next meeting, Brynja indicated that since this Fall meeting was being held several weeks before MMAA’s typical schedule, MMAA may consider shifting from the normal February timeframe towards earlier, such as January or even November to avoid the holidays, and asked for input over the next few weeks.

5. Paula Chase Hyman provided an update from MML for both the Attorneys and the Clerks. She noted the Fall conference is upcoming, and that annual Highway User Revenue reporting will be due on September 30, and advised everyone to be sure to meet the deadline and to check the website or ask MML staff if they have any questions. She also noted MML is encouraging more use of digital communications, including use of the website and the MML application (“App”).

6. Frederick City Attorney Saundra Nichols and Assistant City Attorney Rachel Depo (also MMAA Vice-President) made a presentation on the Open Meetings Act. They generally noted that, unless an exception applies or the meeting is for administrative or quasi-judicial purposes, public bodies must hold open meetings. As such, thus must provide as much advance notice of the meeting as possible, ensure it is indeed open and available to the public, and then keep minutes of that meeting. Saundra noted that simultaneous communications, whether by telephone or some texts, may be considered open meetings, but that non-simultaneous communications, such as emails, are not.

The presenters also noted there is a specific process to close a meeting, including identifying one of the fourteen (14) specified exceptions allowing a closed meeting – such as personnel, legal advice, property acquisition – and that the vote to close the meeting must be conducted as part of the open public meeting. It was also noted that public bodies starting in open session and then moving to a closed administrative session, for executive purposes, must do so by motion which is reflected in the minutes.

They finally noted that complaints for alleged Open Meetings Act violations can take two routes. Persons dissatisfied with a public body’s compliance with the Open Meetings Act can file a complaint with the Open Meetings Compliance Board. The Board offers advisory opinions which must be summarized at the public body’s next public meeting, but has no direct enforcement authority. Persons dissatisfied can also opt to file a complaint with the local County Circuit Court, either instead of filing an Open Meetings Compliance Board complaint or afterwards. The Circuit Court can in some cases overturn the public body’s action if taken in violation of the Open Meetings Act, may assess a penalty, and may award attorney’s fees. They also noted there is a training requirement for certain public officials, which can be satisfied online through the Institute for Governmental Service.

7. MMAA President Brynja Booth led a discussion about meeting procedures and meeting processes. She noted that while Robert’s Rules of Order are often referenced in certain rules, in fact those Rules are often used to support arcane or difficult motions, and the better approach can be to take a reasonable approach focusing on rational procedures. She noted that some bodies may adopt formal rules, but that it can be useful in doing so to adopt rules allowing flexibility – which can avoid the need for amendments or refinements when specific problems later arise.

As to public comment, Brynja specifically noted that while public body meetings have to be open, public comment is not necessary required. While many town and city councils establish an agenda item for public comment, public comment otherwise need only be accepted during public hearings, and even then it can be limited as long as the limits are consistently applied. She underscored the importance of applying rules on public comment in a consistent manner that also allows the public body to accomplish its tasks without being taken over by “free for alls” or extremely long comment periods.

As to motions, she noted that they do need a second to be considered; otherwise they simply expire without further consideration. Meeting participants engaged in a discussion on several related matters, including abstentions, which the consensus was that public body members can abstain but should only do so for a specified reason, and that the rules should be drafted to avoid an abstention being considered a member not present, for purposes of a quorum. It was also noted that upon court challenges, common law, including Robert’s Rules of Order, will be applied. Several asked whether for public comment it is required to use a person’s name and their address, and it was clarified that neither is required for inclusion in the minutes; indeed some clerks noted they will only refer to streets or communities rather than the specific address, and others will not refer to individual names.

With no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:51 a.m.
Frank Johnson, Secretary

Information from Monday, June 27, 2016 MMAA Meeting at the MML Summer Convention in Ocean City.
Click here for approved minutes

Meredith Mishaga, Director of Foreclosure Administration with the State’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation updated us briefly on the foreclosure registry, after speaking to MMAA last year. She noted that Maryland law generally requires information as to new owners of foreclosed property, but is generally enforced via local ordinance. Several legislative bills were proposed in the General Assembly, but none passed; instead, there will be a “summer study” of the general issue to determine whether any state law changes are needed. She noted her office could help with questions, and in particular asked our members to let her know of any problems or suggestions accessing the foreclosed property database. 

Kimberly Min, MMAA member and partner at Whiteford, Taylor and Preston spoke to us about some basic bond financing terminology, which she knows can be difficult to follow when municipalities are considering bonds. She noted that she has worked in municipal finance for over a decade, and knows financing for local governments can be a technical practice with a good deal of specific terminology. She noted that municipal officials may be entering a sophisticated financial transaction in order to respond to public need, constituent desires, and capital projects. In particular, she noted many bond transactions are focusing on new infrastructure for water/wastewater systems. She explained that, when officials consider bond financing, often the town or city attorney is the first one called - -and a vocabulary list can help us respond to some basic questions, 

Kimberly explained that the “tax exemption” applicable to municipal bonds means that the income isn't taxed, such that the holder effectively doesn’t have to claim the interest as income. She noted that, as with many IRS matters, there are forms, requirements, and a tax questionnaire leading to the tax certificate. She explained that in meeting the required “use and issuer” mandates, IRS Form 8038 records issuance of the bonds and that the issuer must then go through “post-issuance compliance procedures,” including the requirement to designate someone to monitor to ensure the issuer continue to meet their obligations under IRS Code.

Kimberly noted that, with these terms, it’s clear a financial adviser can be critical to assisting a town or city looking at bond financing. She also noted several programs available to assist municipalities, including USDA which will finance at a low rate for 40 years, for projects such as for water/wastewater financing; the Maryland Water Quality Admin for similar projects; and the Maryland Community Development Admin which will assist with many local projects, including town halls, and will combine multiple bonds together from many issuers in order to give everyone the best overall conditions and rates. 

She highlighted several key terms, noting her goal was to attempt to be available and accessible.

* She noted a bond can be a “general obligation” bond, paid out of general (or any) revenues – such that the promise is based on the amount to be repaid, such that revenues have to be raised or taxes increased if revenue falls short.

* A “limited obligation” bond, however, is paid through a restricted to revenue stream or revenue from certain income from certain property, such as based on parking ticket revenues. It’s thus not a general obligation, and if the restricted revenues are insufficient, the bond isn’t fully paid.

* As to other terms, an “Issuer” is the municipal corporation, county, city, or other local authority issuing a bond for a capital project within that jurisdiction 
 
* A “bond holder” is actually the bond purchaser. Here, Kimberly noted that towns and cities can always take out loans, but bond financing can be an important benefit because municipal bond revenues are tax exempt, which can be an important additional benefit for the holder – allowing them to reduce the interest rate, thus saving the municipality extra costs. In that regard, Kimberly noted that a bank can serve as a direct purchaser, such that often general obligation bonds are issued only to a single bank, representing the equivalent of a bank loan. The benefit of such an arrangement is that this can avoid the need to go through the expense and process for publicizing bond availability on the market. She also noted this can be an additional savings on top of the key benefit of the lower

* Kimberly also noted that “public bond holders” are those entities who buy bonds on the public market, as distinguished from a single bank.

* Kimberly explained that a “financial adviser” is not an underwriter but a person who is loyal to the client issuing the bond, who can help advise the municipality as to the best financing and bond options based on the specific project being funded. A “bond anticipation note” is a separate note establishing interim financing, often for construction or on what is called a “draw-down basis,” meaning, using the funds as needed. Longer term bonds are then issued afterwards. And a “private activity bond” is a non governmental bond, but Kimberly noted that Section 501(c)(3) nonprofits can gain additional benefits. 

Minutes of the May 6, 2016 MMAA meeting were unanimously approved, on motion by Tom Yeager, wjcoj was seconded by Lynn Board. 

Candace Donoho, MML Government Relations Director, spoke briefly about future planning for the 2017 General Assembly, and noted she has not received any LAR (Legislative Action Requests) from municipalities. She noted MML is also carefully watching the foreclosure registry review’s summer study and that there may be discussion on any gaps between registry and the information municipalities need, and that if a bill is needed, she expects MML and MACo would likely support it. Lynn Board, MMAA’s representative on the MML legislative committee, also warned that while local governments have faced bills over the last few years to reduce or eliminate notice requirements and increase liability under the Local Government Tort Claims Act, they may be facing more legislation next year. Candace also noted that there may be several General Assembly committee changes with upcoming Congressional elections. 

Brynja Booth, President, asked persons to let her know if they are interested in serving on any MML committees, such as Communications, Convention Planning, or Emergency Preparedness.  Brynja also noted MMAA was planning ahead for future meeting topics and speakers, and asked for ideas. Ideas included applying to the FAA for approval to use a drone; transgender issues, including public access, after 2014 passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act; Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (L.E.O.B.R.) updates; a possible joint meeting with the City Clerks as well as the Code Enforcement and Zoning Officers Association, especially given the Code Enforcement Manual recently drafted. Brynja asked members to let us know of any other issues, speakers or concerns of interest we could cover. 

Information from Thursday, May 5, 2016 MMAA Spring Meeting at Fisherman's Inn at Kent Narrows 
Click here for approved minutes.

Judges Dale Cathell and Glenn Harrell of the Maryland Court of Appeals provided members with a review of several recent Court of Appeals decisions, as well as a 27-page summary of all decisions relevant to municipalities which was distributed and is available by clicking here. Judge Cathell spoke first, and focused on two cases. One was Anne Arundel County v. Bell, which addressed the question of litigant standing to challenge comprehensive rezoning. The Court found that standing for such a claim required the existence of a taxpayer and an action brought on behalf of all taxpayers, rather than a single property owner. Judge Cathell explained that he did not believe that this decision changed Maryland law, as some advocacy groups later alleged in seeking legislation during the 2016 General Assembly (which was not passed after some others, including MMAA members, made the same point). He also discussed Litz v. Md. Department of the Environment (MDE), which raised the question of a constitutional “taking,” specifically inverse condemnation. In this case, the Court for what he indicated was the first time found that a town’s failure to construct a sanitary sewer system could be held to constitute an “inverse taking.” In the past, inverse takings have only been considered a possible claim in the face of errors in performing services or otherwise inadequate performance.

Judge Harrell discussed three cases. The first was MDE v. Anacostia Riverkeeper, which involved multiple county MS-4 permits, under which MDE was considering or approving County plans for the required 20% remediation and reduction in effluent. The Court ultimately found that the federal Clean Water Act gave states flexibility in delegating the authority (and obligation) to carry out these permit applications, and also allowed “best management practices” to be employed in permit approvals, rather than more specific calculations based on each identified action in complying with the permit. Next he discussed the “purple line” case, Montgomery County v. Bhatt, which started with a County citation against a property owner for placing a fence in an old B & O railway line, which is now part of the Crescent Trail and is planned as part of the light rail Purple Line. The property owners claimed the fence had been in place for other 20 years and claimed adverse possession. The Court held that adverse possession does not run against public agencies or railroad lines, and found that the old B & O railway line still fit the definition of a railroad line. The third case he discussed was Beall v. Holloway Johnson, which involved an accident between a police officer who had been in pursuit of a person riding a motorcycle – but without any specific indication of a traffic or other legal violation. The question of malice and punitive damages were thus raised during the trial, and in light of the fact that the officer, in prior pleadings, never claimed protection under the Local Government Tort Claims Act, the Court found that such protection did not apply to claims against the officer based on actual malice. 

MMAA’s MML Legislative Committee representative Lynn Board, assisted by Jim Peck, MML Director of Research and Information Management and Bill Jorch, Associate, Government Relations, provided an update on bills passed this year. She first noted that SB 166, the bill intended to expand standing for comprehensive rezonings, did not proceed after apparent confusion as to the meaning of the Bell case. She also indicated that HB 217 requires local entities to post agendas prior to their meetings. She also noted that a strongly supported bill to clarify confidentiality for some recordings from police body-worn cameras did not pass, but will probably be taken up in the future. A new law limits the one-year notice requirement for local government tort claims to those in which the county or municipality did not have “actual notice.” This may be a significant limitation, as actual notice would constitute any acciden or damage that any element of a local government agency is aware of, or which is visually apparent. She also noted that while several bills were introduced to assert new controls over municipal elections, only one was actually enacted. This was HB 852, which in the case of a tie vote in an election requires the municipality to fill the vacancy within 90 days, but does not mandate any process for doing so. A bill on police processes, including LEOBR hearings, HB 1016, was passed which will change the makeup of LEOBR hearings and require them to be held in public, as well as make a host of reporting and related changes. After override of last year’s forfeiture bill, SB 528, which switched the burden of proof in civil forfeitures to the police, this year’s SB 161 added reporting requirements and also created new requirements and timelines for defendant demands for return of the property. Lastly, she noted that SB 395 was passed, changing the State Ethics Code to remove discretion from municipalities for any modifications and permit the State Ethics Commission to establish regulations. Bill Jorch and Jim Peck spoke about the Highway User Revenue priority, noting that while the Governor’s budget funded it, the additional funds were removed by the General Assembly and reduced to the same amount approved last year. They noted this issue will likely be raised again. 
 
Members elected officers for 2016-2017 – Brynja Booth for President, Rachel Depo for Vice President, Frank Johnson for Secretary and Jason DeLoach for Treasurer.  MMAA members also approved Lynn Board on the MML Legislative Committee and Elissa Levan for the MML Board of Directors. 

President John Barr thanked members for their support in his several years of leadership. Treasurer Jason DeLoach and Secretary Frank Johnson also thanked him for his support for their work. Both noted that John Barr is very responsive to requests and has encouraged new ideas and initiatives, as well as helped to run very effective meetings. 
 
Member Thomas Yeager, who is on the Local Section Council for MSBA’s State and Local Government Committee, announced that MSBA has scheduled a May 19 Spring Institute Honoring Law Day, covering takings, medical marijuana issues, LEOBR, local regulation of private employment and other issues, with Attorney General Brian Frosh as the lunch speaker. Costs are $50, or $35 for Section members.  Click here for more information.  He also announced that the State and Local Government Section Council will meet at the MSBA Convention on Thursday, June 16 from 8:00 to 9:00 for a breakfast and business meeting, and to let him know if anyone was interested in attending. Information about both meetings can be found on the MSBA website, www.msba.org. 
 
Secretary Frank Johnson noted the next MMAA meeting will be on June 27, 2016, at the MML Summer Convention, and that member Kimberly Min will present information about local government financing, such as bond financing, including tips and strategies.  Frank Johnson also presented several copies of a newly drafted comprehensive code enforcement manual he had prepared for municipalities in Maryland. Several copies were distributed and members agreed to support further publication; Jim Peck also indicated that MML would support the manual and would make an electronic version available through the MML website, and will work with Frank and the MMAA in arranging for that. Lynn Board also indicated they would be working with CEZOA and other interested groups as code enforcement officers for the City of Gaithersburg agreed the manual was very helpful. 

Information from Wednesday, March 16, 2016 MMAA Telephone Conference on Small Cell and Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS).

A group of members joined in a telephone conference to discuss new changes in telecommunications, largely to accommodate the widespread use of smart phones and similar devices.  We thank Kimberly Min, MMAA member and Whiteford, Taylor and Preston for hosting the conference call.

The issue of telecommunications is now a major local issue, after changes in technology and the law.  Municipalities are increasing being approached by providers and infrastructure firms for permission to install small cell facilities and larger DAS facilities, often on rights of way.  Sometimes they will seek to install these items on buildings, on pole, on street lights, or next to other antennas.  These represent relatively new technological advances that broaden the wireless cell coverage.  And a relatively recent FCC order mandates, in most cases, that local governments allow installations that will expand coverage in this way.

During the discussion, led by Victor Tervala, Baltimore City Chief Solicitor, John Lyons, Anne Arundel County Cable Administrator, and Frank Johnson, Gaithersburg Assistant City Attorney, speakers pointed out how the new FCC "shot clocks" or permit deadlines of 60, 90 or 150 days apply, but also how these timelines do not apply until a completed application has been submitted.  Click here for more detailed notes on the discussion.  Generally, with changes in technology, municipalities should expect to hear from a provider or infrastructure provider.  Some can be aggressive, even though most are willing to work with municipalities -- but it is always important to know your rights. 

In most cases, a first step will be entering a contract, either a franchise agreement or right of way agreement - or both.  Part of that agreement will include allowable fees, and the municipalities preference for use of public land or public facilities, such as City or Town street lights.  Click here for a recent Baltimore City ordinance laying out franchise fee requirements for these facilities. 

Permit denials are in most cases limited, but safety, appearance and specific placement (if a workable alternative is offered) can all be considerations.  In addition to a contract or agreement, as discussed during the conference, municipalities do need to ensure they have zoning in place to allow these installations -- as well as impose reasonable restrictions.  Municipalities also need to have a permitting process in place to accommodate the deadlines and ensure applicants receive communication as quickly as possible.  Click here for a sample draft highlighting recent zoning ordinance and permitting changes for the City of Gaithersburg. 

We expect this will be an ongoing issue, especially as technology continues to change, and this conference and these materials highlight some key steps municipalities can and should take. 


Information from the Thursday, March 3, 2016 MMAA Meeting at Harry Browne's in Annapolis
Click here for approved minutes.

Tiffany Harvey, Deputy Counsel for Civil Rights and Legislative Affairs for the Office of the Attorney General, spoke about Attorney General Brian Frosh’s legislative initiatives but emphasized the August 2015 Guidance on preventing discriminatory profiling for law enforcement agencies. She said that the Attorney General took the initiative to develop uniform state standards as a guide for all police agencies in Maryland to follow – making Maryland the first state to follow similar guidance put in place by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014. The Guidelines are on the Attorney General’s website but you can also click here for a copy. Ms. Harvey explained the Guidelines lay out general principles which are based on the face that profiling based on race and several other protected classes – such as gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity/preference and disability – is not permitted under Maryland law. She noted that in November 2015, the Attorney General surveyed 150 law enforcement agencies throughout Maryland, and found that all prohibit profiling based on race. She said it’s important that law enforcement agencies expand the prohibitions, and said that 70% have added expansions. Ms. Harvey said the Attorney General’s office was available to help with any questions, and also noted the Attorney General introduced two bills this year; one on third party debt buyers and the other on transfers of structured settlements. 

The MMAA’s representative on the MML Legislative Committee, Lynn Board, and MML Government Relations Director Candace Donoho updated members on state legislation. Candace let us know that the MML priorities, including restoration of Highway User Revenues (HUR) and protection of Program Open Space (POS) funding are being seriously considered. As to other bills, a bill on police standards, including the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (HB 1016) is under consideration but could result in a study group for the summer and fall before new legislation is proposed next year. Lynn Board highlighted several bills, including several bills on municipal elections, including one that would mandate a solution to a tie vote, leaving the exact solution (runoff election, appointment, coin toss) to the municipality to decide.  These are concerns because municipal elections have traditionally been regulated by the municipality.  In addition, a bill on ethics would effectively eliminate any local modifications by further increasing State Ethics Commission authority by allowing it to establish statewide regulations specifying the allowable modifications to address local needs. She also highlighted Open Meetings bills which would require that agendas be posted at least 24 hours before the meeting and that minutes be kept for at least 5 years. Others, which may not be enacted, would require all local employees to take Open Meetings Act training and grant the Open Meetings Compliance Board the authority to issue orders and impose fines. Tort claims bills would eliminate the 1-year notice requirement, which was expanded from 6 months last year, but no action has been taken on the bill; another would eliminate the notice requirement for discrimination cases. A land use bill that would expand standing for comprehensive plan challenges after the 2015 Bell court decision. 
 
President John Barr announced that nominations had been received for all positions for 2016-2017 – Brynja Booth for President, Rachel Depo for Vice President, Frank Johnson for Secretary, Jason DeLoach for Treasurer, Elissa Levan for the MML Board of Directors and Lynn Board on the MML Legislative Committee. He asked for any additional nominations, and none were proposed. He noted that the officer election will be held at the May meeting, which will be in early May at the Fisherman’s Inn in Kent Island, with Judge Harrell speaking. 
 
Members discussed future meeting topics, including small cell telecommunications, ensuring nondiscrimination regarding transgender and gender identity, and insights regarding bond financing. Some members are interested in a telephone conference on telecommunications issues, and officers will try to make the necessary arrangements. 


Information from the Thursday, October 8, 2015 MMAA meeting at the Café Deluxe Restaurant in Gaithersburg,
Click here for approved minutes

First, a Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to longtime MMAA member Robert H. Levan for his long, dedicated service to municipalities and municipal law. President John Barr and members Karen Ruff and Mr. Levan’s daughter, Elissa Levan, all spoke at length about his personal commitment to justice and helping others, his mentoring of their efforts, and how, as perhaps the first true municipal attorney, he represents the best of our profession in municipal law. Everyone spoke of examples of the help he has offered to so many over his career.  President John Barr said that in many ways, Mr. Levan has assisted almost every Maryland municipality, either directly or on general legal issues.

In addition, Scott Hancock, Executive Director of MML, presented Mr. Levan with an MML lifetime achievement certificate. Mr. Hancock also spoke of Mr. Levan’s mentoring from the time he started as MML Executive Director twenty years ago, and how Mr. Levan has always been available to help him and MML.  Mr. Levan, who was accompanied by his wife and other family members, also spoke about his work and his appreciation for being recognized. 

Second, MMAA had a presentation on employment issues from Dan Karp, partner in Karpinski, Colaresi and Karp who handles a number of LGIT cases, including many employment cases for municipalities.  Mr. Karp spoke about current hot employment issues municipalities are facing. He first noted that, decades ago, employment claims were rarely an issue for municipal governments as they were largely immune from litigation, and there were limited labor laws in force.  But with changes in liability laws and the broad creation of both federal and state labor laws over the last few decades, employment claims are a growing concern for municipalities. 

As such, the current landscape includes any number of liability issues. Key among them is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, as well as the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Mr. Karp noted how these distinct laws are, with continued litigation over the years, beginning to blend into set of rules that require particular concern for disabled persons and require expanded rights. For example, he noted that even in a recent FMLA case in which an employer had granted twice the required 12 weeks of annual FMLA minimum leave for a medical need, ADA issues were still raised when the employee was denied light duty. He noted that in many cases, FMLA claims are turning into combined ADA and disability claims. Mr. Karp also noted that under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, recent court decisions make it clear that pregnancy must be considered a disability in the same way as, and equal to, any other disability. 

Lynn Board, MMAA’s representative on the MML Legislative Committee, noted that she also sits on the LGIT Claims Committee, and reported an increase in the number of EEOC and related litigation claims on employment issues affecting municipalities.  She then highlighted the MML Legislative Committee recommendations that MML membership will consider at the upcoming Fall MML conference. She noted the committee recommended two priorities: first, that Highway User Revenue be increased and that a new formula be established to allow ongoing (and predictable) financial support, and second, that Program Open Space funding be protected as a priority, from any financial dilution or redistribution. Additionally, she noted the legislative committee will recommend that MML issue three policy statements; one related to police body cameras and the need for clarification on Public Information Act access to data, which is very expensive to maintain; a second related to double tax relief from counties; and a third related to better access to foreclosure data where ownership remains difficult to identify during parts of the foreclosure process. 

Information from the June 29, 2015 MMAA Meeting at the MML Convention  Click here for approved minutes

The Monday, June 29, 2015 MMAA meeting was held at the Ocean City Convention Center in Room 210.

Meredith  Mishaga, Director of Foreclosure Administration with the Commissioner of Financial Regulation (part of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation/DLLR), gave us a powerpoint about the Maryland Foreclosed Property Registry, which was created by the General Assembly in 2012 to provide local jurisdictions with information on current ownership of foreclosed homes.  Her powerpoint presentation can be viewed by clicking here.  And if you want to review the brief "quick fact" pamphlet, click here.  As she described, these are homes which can fall into disrepair during the foreclosure process, when they are usually vacant.  It may be difficult to find a responsible party to address civil code and maintenance concerns (which may include tall grass or needed home repairs).

The Registry isn't a complete solution, but can help local governments identify purchasers of residential property.  The registry requirement kicks in at the time of the foreclosure sale, and requires at least initial registration within 30 days after the sale .  Information should include the new owner, status, who accepts legal service and who is responsible for maintenance, among other things.  There's a $50 fee, and while the Commissioner of Financial Regulation has no specific enforcement authority, the fee is increased to $100 if the registry is late; also, Director Mishaga noted local governments can require registry compliance and enforce it through the municipal infraction process, with fines or even abatement orders.

Director Mishaga noted that this information is not public, and municipal staff need to register via the Registry website to gain access to the information; see the attached (click here) for further information about the Registry.  For attorneys who aren't municipal staff, a statement or letter from the city or town is needed before we can access the data.  She also noted disclosure is limited, as this is considered private information.  Thus, we can only share it with municipal staff, the HOA or condo association where the property is part of a commonly-owned community, or a person living on the same street.  

Candace Donoho, MML's Government Relations Director, briefly mentioned the 2015 General Assembly session, noting the ethics/disclosure priority did not make it out of committee but that the Land Use Article change, clarifying that local legislative bodies have the ability to amend master plan recommendations, was passed, and thanked MMAA and members Lynn Board, MMAA's legislative liaison, and Debra Daniel for their assistance.  She also noted the public information act changes, indicating they were more limited than many were proposing, and noted two issues that may result in future legislative proposals establishing new mandates and standards, involving municipal elections and police protection.  Candace noted the possibility of a proposal for some measure of state regulation, if not control, of municipal elections, which are now handled independently, and the likelihood of new state standards on police training and minimum requirements for sworn police officers.

Members also discussed the impact of several recent Supreme Court decisions having a major impact on local governments.  These included the Town of Gilbert decision, in which the Court effectively invalidated (by applying the "strict scrutiny" test) any local sign ordinances imposing different standards to different categories.  It was noted that the decision didn't invalidate overall size, lighting, off-site or other physical limitations, even as others noted that First Amendment claims can be difficult to defend in the best circumstances.  The consensus was that the decision will require redrafting of any ordinances applying different standards to different categories, based on the identity of the person or group placing the sign.  Members also briefly discussed the decision establishing that "disparate impact" remains a valid Fair Housing Act claim against local governments, even where no intent can be shown, though liability is not automatic and courts will consider valid reasons supporting any steps affecting affordable housing.

Members also noted other new concerns they are facing include questions about transgender rights, which were addressed by the General Assembly in 2014 and include use of rest room and locker room facilities based on their preferred gender; that police chiefs are generally excluded from participation in LEOBR (Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights) hearing boards, even as in many cases they hold the final decision; and that newly elected officials need to take their oath of office in a timely fashion (or the local election laws need to so provide) to avoid being considered to have refused to take the oath, under the Maryland Constitution, Article 1, Section 11.

Before the meeting was closed, Treasurer Jason DeLoach noted he would be sending invoices to members in the near future, per the membership's decision to re-apply the $50 per attorney annual fee.  Incoming Secretary Frank Johnson also noted that we would prepare brief agendas and minutes of future meetings, and that we're also taking steps to keep our website up-to-date. 

Information from the May 21, 2015 MMAA Meeting

The Thursday, May 21, 2015 meeting was held at the Fisherman's Inn, Kent Narrows, and had several speakers.

Adam Snyder, Chief Council, Opinions and Advice for the Maryland Attorney General, spoke about several upcoming changes in the Public Information Act after the General Assembly.  Changes include creation of a Public Information Act Board, with limited jurisdiction (only to address fees in excess of $350) but broad power to order fee reductions; an Ombudsman in the Attorney General's office with broad oversight to address any issues of concern raised by either a person requesting records or the local government, but no formal authority to order any solution.  He also noted fees will be limited to actual costs, and that the requesting party's ability to pay can be a separate waiver consideration.  Other changes include the requirement of a 10-working-days response if responding takes longer, with an estimated time for completion and a cost estimate, and the need for local governments to identify a contact for all requests, which can also be divided by department.  Local governments also must note, at least on their website, which (if any) documents are available on demand.  Overall, Mr. Snyder advised reaching out to requestors with a response or update, as soon as possible.

Tim Ailsworth of LGIT also spoke on the impact of Local Government Tort Claims Act changes, in which awards and permitted claim times were all doubled (awards from $200,000 to $400,000, and each occurrence from $400,000 to $800,000, with the time allowed to file a claim increasing from 6 months from date of occurrence to one year).  He indicated this will result in an increase of costs by about 5% for municipalities self-ensured through LGIT. 

Tom Curtin, MML's Government Relations and Research Associate, also spoke about the General Assembly, noting two MML priorities were approved, including the Governor's proposal for Highway User Revenues , granting municipalities $19 million out of $25 million added by the budget and the land use bill clarifying that legislative bodies can amend Master Plan recommendations from their Planning Commissions, but must hold a public hearing if such changes are made.  He also noted the bill regarding double taxation was passed as a local bill for Frederick County rather than statewide, but would require a resolution and could serve as a sample for future statewide legislation.

Officer elections, to start with the new MML Board of Directors (at the MML Convention next month) were also held, and those nominated were unanimously approved.  Thus John Barr will continue serving as President; Brynja Booth will serve as Vice-President; Jason DeLoach will continue as Treasurer; and Frank Johnson will serve as Secretary.  Elissa Levan indicated she wished to continue serving as MMAA representative on the MML Board of Directors, and Lynn Board wishes to remain on the MML Legislative Committee, and members also unanimously supported their continuation.


Information from Winter/Early Spring 2015 MMAA Meeting

The Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 meeting was held in Annapolis.  Karen Kruger, partner with Funk and Bolton PA who also serves as counsel for the Maryland Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, spoke on the issues and impacts related to the use of police body-worn cameras.  She noted several bills had been filed in the General Assembly this year which would not mandate the use of such cameras but would impose a number of requirements on their use.   Issues with police body-worn cameras include privacy, safety and the costs of retaining the data.  Additionally, the costs of reviewing and organizing the data can also be substantial.  And in many cases, the cameras themselves are not always dependable, and even when they are, the actual recording can be difficult to follow.  LGIT has establishing a pilot testing project and several jurisdictions are making initial use of these cameras, so we will all have the chance to learn from their experience.  Even so, it's clear the privacy, safety and cost concerns will continue.

Click here for an article on police body-worn cameras entitled "Lessons from the Early Adopters," which Karen handed out at the meeting.

Lynn Board, MMAA's representative on the MML Legislative Committee, also updated members.  As to MML priorities, the $19 million of HUR funding for municipalities, which the Governor included in his budget proposal, is likely to be retained with approval from both houses; the land use bill clarifying legislative authority to approve and amend master plan recommendations appears likely to pass; and a financial disclosure bill was not favorably reported.  Otherwise, public information act amendments are likely to be approved, establishing a Public Information Compliance Board, requiring responses within 10 days and allowing Board review of fees over $350, after several amendments proposed by MML.

In MMAA business, no further nominations for 2015-2016 officers were received and membership voting will, per the Bylaws, be completed at the May meeting.  Persons nominated for each of the positions are John Barr for President, Brynja Booth for Vice President, Jason DeLoach for Treasurer, and Frank Johnson for Secretary.  Additionally, Elissa Levan has indicated she wishes to remain as the MML Board of Directors representative, and Lynn Board wishes to remain as the MML Legislative Committee representative.


Information from the MMAA 2014 Fall Meeting:

The December 4, 2014 meeting, held in Annapolis, included an update from Candace Donoho, MML's Government Relations Director, on MML's legislative priorities for the 2015 General Assembly session, including restoring Highway User Revenues (HUR), clarifying the approval process for municipal master plans and protecting some ethics disclosures (particularly involving spouses and dependent children) from public disclosure.   approval issue (as to whether legislative bodies have final approval authority and can amend a planning commission recommendation) and required ethics disclosures.   MML has adopted both as part of its legislative priorities for clarifications and/or corrections.

Lynn Board, MMAA’s representative on the MML legislative committee, Debra Daniel, City Attorney for Rockville, and Tom McCarron, Mt. Airy’s town attorney, who a few years ago filed a request for an AG opinion in 2012 on the master plan approval issue, discussed the question of whether Maryland's Land Use Article allows legislative bodies to amend or remand a master plan recommendation from the planning commission, or simply require either outright approval or rejection.  Click here for materials the Panel prepared, which includes:
 
* A copy of the relevant Maryland Annotated Code sections (both the current Land Use Article and prior Article 66B);
* The June 13, 2014 letter from the Department of Planning to the City of Rockville; and
* The November 18, 2014 Attorney General opinion to the Town of Mount Airy.

Information from the MMAA Spring 2014 Meeting:

At the May 8, 2014 MMAA Spring meeting at Fisherman's Inn at Kent Narrows, Judge Glenn T. Harrell, Jr. and returned Judge Dale R. Cathell joined us to discuss notable cases.  Click here for Judge Harrell's summary of recent decisions which he discussed at the meeting.  Court Summary for MMAA Spring Meeting