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Pack, council cleared of alleged open meetings violations

EASTON — The Open Meetings Compliance Board determined the Talbot County Council and its president did not breach Maryland open meetings laws despite complaints alleging the contrary concerning two separate instances in July.

One series of complaints claimed the council violated the law when it closed its July 28 meeting to the public citing coronavirus health safety concerns. The filings alleged citizens did not have adequate remote access to the meeting and argued the council should have decided in public whether to close the meeting.

A second complaints string asserted Council President Corey Pack broke the law when he convened a three-way phone call among himself and two other council members to discuss the council’s already-cast vote to close the July 28 meeting.

The compliance board issued two separate opinions to address several filings related to both alleged violations and found that neither instance constituted a breach of existing open meetings laws.

With regard to the council’s private vote to prohibit public attendance at its July 28 meeting, the board found that “the question fell within the Council’s administrative function” and it was “appropriate for the Council members to address it in the way they did.”

The council had expected the meeting to attract several dozen citizens for a public hearing ahead of the council’s Aug. 11 vote on whether to remove the Talbot Boys Confederate monument, which it ultimately voted 3-2 to keep.

County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley had recommended the meeting closure to prevent further spread of COVID-19, and the council heeded Wadley’s advice.

The compliance board stated the council “could not have convened a public meeting on logistics without someone deciding how to hold that meeting.” The board also found that the council provided adequate alternatives to in-person attendance at the July 28 meeting that ensured the public could hear the meeting.

The board’s opinion stated, “... we find that Council provided reasonable access to its meeting when it provided the public with access by telephone, internet, or cable television as substitutions for admission to the meeting room.”

“Clearly, some methods did not work as well as others, but, from the video, we do not conclude that the technical difficulties with the sound were so extensive as to violate the Act,” the board wrote.

On the issue of Pack’s allegedly initiating a three-way call that violated the law stating that a majority of the council cannot convene off the public record to handle county business, the board cleared Pack of any wrongdoing.

Because the phone conversation pertained to business the council had already conducted — the private July 27 vote to close the July 28 meeting to the public — the board found that Pack was only seeking to “speak with a fellow member or members to clear the air, whether by explaining his vote on it or asking about theirs.”

Pack previously told The Star Democrat he disagreed with the council’s decision to close the meeting and had been upset by the vote. At the time of the alleged violation, Pack maintained that he had not violated open meetings laws because the vote he was addressing on the call had already taken place.

The board wrote in its opinion that the “topic might have pertained more to the betterment of interpersonal relationships among the council members than to an item of business under consideration and might not have constituted public business.”

“... Even had the three members discussed anything at all in the brief moment in which the third member joined the call, and whether or not the purpose of the call was to re-consider the meeting logistics or simply to discuss them, the topic fell within the County Council’s administrative function,” the board’s opinion read.

The council is expected to present the compliance board’s findings at its Tuesday, Nov. 17, meeting, according to the council’s agenda.

Grasonville man organizes support for Travis Pastrana's Nitro Circus racetrack

SUDLERSVILLE — Longtime Queen Anne’s County volunteer Justin Davis of Grasonville runs What’s Up QAC, a vibrant social media platform. He also runs First Light for First Responders, a nonprofit. Now Davis is organizing “Citizens for Pastrana Rally, QACA is Whacka,” an event planned for Nov. 21 at the courthouse square in Centreville.

“We need citizens to come out and show their support for Travis Pastrana. Queen Anne’s County government and the citizens they represent should have control of what happens in the county. Not an organization with a lot of money to throw around,” Davis said.

Davis has been supportive of the Nitro Circus track planned for Sudlersville by racer Travis Pastrana since it was proposed. The decision to withdraw his plans for the track followed litigation filed by a several Sudlersville citizens with the help of Queen Anne’s Conservation Association.

“I think Pastrana is doing what he has to do,” Davis said. “He definitely could have won if he had stayed. But if you have investors and they expect things done on a timeline ... I am sure he sees the Four Seasons properties that were held up 20 plus years. The county lost a million dollars in that whole ordeal.”

“Pastrana really does do a lot for the community and especially for the kids. I know for a fact that he was going to be benefiting all the fire departments in the county. Being volunteers they need all the money they can get,” noted Davis.

Davis believes more Sudlersville residents were for the project than against it, and he wishes it had been put to some type of vote. In July, Davis set up a petition, when discussion about the racetrack was beginning, “just to see what kind of support we would get,” he said, “and it is close to 5,000 signatures, which was a lot more than we thought we would get.”

“There is nothing for kids to do in the county,” Davis added. “There never has been. Pastrana’s project would have been the perfect thing. A lot of kids are into motor cross. The thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that he was setting up an E-rally course to promote E-rally sports, which are electric. Those cars make absolutely no noise. They did a study where three of them make less noise than a combine.”

“He (Pastrana) was trying to grow the E-rally sport because it is brand new. It is something they haven’t even really begun to get into yet, but it is the wave of the future,” Davis said.

Davis strives to keep things civil. No threats or bullying or sarcasm. And on his Facebook post Davis was quick to reply to those who sought to make threats online against Falstad and his family and strongly discouraged such behavior.

“I have nothing against QACA or Jay Falstad,” said Davis, “but if you are going to have a mission, then do it the same across the board.”

Davis cited a newly constructed brewery built in a rural part of Queenstown. They (QACA) haven’t said a word about that, he noted, and here is yet another place to drink and still no place for the kids.

“Healthy debates are fine as long as they are civil. Like I tell everybody, you can’t fix things until everybody talks about it. Something this big should have been up to the citizens. We really need to band to together and give these kids something to do,” he said.

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Digging into Biden's comeback versus Trump in Talbot, battlegrounds

EASTON — Joe Biden carried Talbot County by 116 votes over President Donald Trump, according to the unofficial results from the state and local elections boards.

A Democrat has not carried Talbot County since 1964 with Lyndon Johnson’s victory over Barry Goldwater.

In Talbot County, voter turnout was a very healthy 81.96%, according to county elections director Jeri Cook

A dig into election numbers locally, regionally and in some key national battlegrounds show some illuminations on the Trump-Biden race but also how Biden performed compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

They also show how Biden significantly outperformed Obama’s 2008 campaign in some key battlegrounds. Obama’s 2008 campaign was hailed as historical because it resulted in the election of the first African American president.

In Talbot County, Biden garnered 11,062 votes compared to 10,946 for Trump.

Trump actually received more votes locally in 2020 than he did four years ago when he carried the county with 10,724 votes.

But Biden’s local vote total is 28% better than the 8,653 votes cast for Hillary Clinton in her loss to Trump in 2016.

Former President Barack Obama received 8,808 votes in 2012 and 9,035 votes in 2008, locally. Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, did 26% better than his former boss did in 2012 and 22% better than in 2008.

Talbot County Democratic Chairman Patrick Firth and other Biden backers credit their get-out-the-vote efforts and an energized base.

“Talbot Democrats hit 70% turnout by Nov. 2, the day before Election Day. A 70% turn-out before Election Day is unprecedented,” Firth said in an email to volunteers and supporters. “This year, we also distributed a record number of over 1,000 campaign signs out of our headquarters and fielded 22 highway signs across Talbot.”

Trump did better on Election Day and in-person early voting, but Biden was able to overcome that with an advantage with mail-in ballots.

Kent County also went to Biden over Trump in 2020 (5,329 votes to 5,195 votes). Trump carried Kent over Clinton in 2016.

Biden did 16% better than Clinton in 2016 and 7.5% better than Obama in 2008 when he won Kent County.

Trump led Biden by 616 votes on election night in Talbot County only to see that lead evaporate as additional ballots were counted. The same dynamic played itself to Biden’s advantage in key Electoral College battlegrounds.

Cook said the election in Talbot County went smoothly as voters and poll workers had to deal with coronavirus social distancing and mask orders.

“It was a very successful election. I would like to thank my staff and all of our election judges for all of their hard work to make this a success,” Cook said. “I would also like to thank the voters of Talbot County for abiding by the social distancing guidelines and wearing masks to help keep our election judges and each other safe.”

Election results from the Maryland State Board of Elections also show Biden outperformed Obama’s 2008 run in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties but not in Baltimore City.

Obama received 214,385 votes in Baltimore City in his first run for president. Biden received 205,558 votes this election cycle.

Media organizations have projected Biden the winner though Trump has not conceded and disputes the results. Trump claims voter fraud and that votes were counted illegally after election night in Michigan, Pennsylvania and other battlegrounds that swung to Biden.

“I won the election,” a resistant Trump said on social media on Monday, Nov. 16, even as Biden continues with transition efforts.

Biden’s 2020 effort did better than Obama’s 2008 campaign in some big cities that were key to his projected 2020 victory over Trump. The trend played out in Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Madison, Wisconsin. Big vote margins in Philadelphia and Detroit also helped Biden to narrow projected wins over Trump in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

In Georgia, Biden beat Trump by 14,155 votes. Biden carried Fulton County (which includes Atlanta) by 243,904 votes, according to the local elections board. Biden received 381,144 votes in Fulton County. That is 40% better than Obama did in 2008 when he was elected the first African American president. Obama received 272,000 votes.

Biden received 363,269 votes in Fulton County. That is 34% better than Obama did in 2008 when he was elected the first African American president. Obama received 272,000 votes in Fulton County in 2008.

In Allegheny County, which is home to Pittsburgh, Biden bested Obama’s 2008 total by 53,723 votes (428,876 votes vs. 373,153 votes). That is a 14% improvement.

Biden beat Trump by 146,706 votes in Allegheny County, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

The 2020 results show Biden with 587,884 votes in Philadelphia. That is 8,096 fewer than Obama received in 2008.

Trump lost to Biden by 457,649 votes in Philadelphia, according to election results.

Biden carried Pennsylvania over Trump by 68,904 votes

In Wayne County, Michigan (which includes Detroit), Biden received 587,074 votes in 2020 versus 264,149 votes for Trump.

Biden’s vote total in Detroit / Wayne County was fewer than Obama in 2008 (660,085 votes) but better than Clinton in 2016 (519,444).

The race in Wisconsin was decided in Biden’s favor by 20,567 votes over

Biden carried Dane County (which includes Madison) with 260,185 votes versus 78,800 for Trump. That was a 181,385- vote edge and 26% better than Obama’s vote total in Dane County in 2008 with 205,894 votes.

QA COVID-rate soars; schools closed

CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County Public Schools announced Monday afternoon, Nov. 16, the school system will move back to all-virtual learning effective Wednesday, Nov. 18, due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the county.

Schools have only been open to specific small groups, such as students for whom English is a second language, students with special needs, those without reliable internet access and career and technology students.

Those groups will all return to virtual, or online, classes, said Jeff Straight, schools spokesman.

“We have collaborated with our local health officials and based on the metrics, all schools will move to virtual learning effective, Nov. 18,” the school system said in a news release. “Queen Anne’s County’s 7-day positivity rate has risen by 2.1% since Friday and the 7-day case rate has risen as well.”

Students who have trouble connecting to the internet for online classes may access wifi from the parking lot of most county schools, Straight said.

All school-sponsored sports events will be suspended beginning Wednesday, Nov. 18, as well.

As of Monday, Queen Anne’s County reported 981 positives and 23 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March, including one on Friday, according to Beth Malasky, public information officer. Two local residents are hospitalized.

The number of cases rose dramatically in the past week with 33 new cases reported on Thursday, 24 on Friday, eight on Saturday, 11 on Sunday and 10 on Monday, Malasky said.

According to Queen Anne’s County Health Department numbers, the county is showing a 7-day positivity rate of 8.278% with 20.13 cases per 100,000 residents. Those numbers are higher than the ones shown on the state website, which tends to run about a week behind, Malasky said.

Both those numbers exceed the state guidelines for in-person learning — an under 5% positivity rate and no more than 15 cases per 100,000 people.

Even using the older state numbers, the Maryland State Department of Education website lists the county metrics above the guidelines, showing a positivity rate of 7.01% and 19 cases per 100,000.

The rise in local COVID-19 cases has not been traced to a single location or event and seems to be from community spread with the biggest culprit being family or community gatherings, as targeted by Gov. Larry Hogan last week, Malasky said.

The community is reminded to wear masks, wash hands frequently with soap and water and maintain social distancing as much as possible.