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

Story Transcript

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
Before joining TRNN as an investigative journalist, Taya worked in Baltimore’s neighborhoods of color for years as an advocate and was awarded the Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Torchbearer Award and YANA’s (You Are Never Alone) “Love in Action” award. Her years of outreach to underserved communities have uniquely prepared her to connect with city residents. Now she cultivates relationships with Baltimore’s citizens to cover the stories on the ground.