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In a letter to the compliance board, the sole black member of the council says her views were misrepresented in the city’s response to an open meetings act complaint

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DIANE DOWNING: You saw something that I didn’t see. TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: She’s been a strong voice for residents of Pocomoke City during their fight to question the firing of their first black police chief, Kelvin Sewell. As the sole African-American member of a majority white city government, Councilwoman Diane Downing has been outspoken in her support for the chief whose tenure led to historic lows in crime for the small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. DOWNING: Since Chief Sewell has been here it’s totally different because he changed the whole dynamics of the police department, and you have the policemen actually out in the neighborhood. GRAHAM: But that voice has now grown even stronger after the lawyer for the city of Pocomoke sent this: a letter to the Attorney General’s Office downplaying her concerns about two secret meetings held in June. In his letter to the attorney general, Pocomoke City solicitor William Hudson wrote that by participating in both secret meetings Downing, along with the council, gave her consent to meeting without public notice. Quote: all apparently left their work and reported to council with very little advanced notice. Their willingness to do so strongly suggests that they too considered the circumstances to be urgent. Which is why Friday Downing sent this, a heated response and a veritable shot across the bow to a council that she says has consistently kept her out of the loop. DOWNING: There probably are a conglomerate amount of meetings that I wasn’t invited to, because they sometimes talked among themselves. And they talked before a meeting, and they might say something, so all of them are privy to whatever they are talking about, and I don’t get that. And I walk in, and everybody’s quiet. GRAHAM: In her letter Downing says she did not consider the meeting urgent or necessary. Quote: I would not vote yes to fire the chief, because their accusations did not warrant him being fired. In fact, none of their accusations against the chief were urgent enough to constitute calling an emergency meeting or firing him. Quote: As city solicitor for Pocomoke City, Mr. Hudson doesn’t represent my views, interests, beliefs, or my feelings as a councilperson in this matter. Quote: I informed him, the mayor, and council that I will be speaking for myself because I do not agree with them regarding this matter. Strong words in an ongoing controversy that now awaits the decision of the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board, and a city council meeting next week. We asked the city for a response. City Manager Ernie Crofoot told us the city attorney sent the letter before reviewing it with Downing, and is under no obligation to do so. This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Pocomoke City, Maryland. For full disclosure, Stephen Janis wrote a book with Kelvin D. Sewell.


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Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns. Follow her on Twitter.