Information sent to Scott E’s Blog from Robert Flanagan about the lawsuit happening in Howard County:
December 20, 2021, Information on pending lawsuit filed by Robert Flanagan
On August 26, 2021, Bob Flanagan filed a lawsuit against Howard County, under the Maryland Public Information Act, seeking 497 emails being withheld based upon a grossly inflated claim of privilege. Under the scrutiny of the Circuit Court, County Executive Calvin Ball’s attorneys have retreated. Now only six emails are being totally refused, although many redactions remain in dispute. At the time that the lawsuit was filed, many people asked: “what is the County Executive hiding?” Information obtained under order of the Court reveals that the stonewalling was to hide that the Office of County Executive had caused the Open Meeting Act to be violated to promote its secret agenda.
Ironically, the very same emails County Executive Ball is withholding are the instruments his office used to violate the Open Meetings Act. Despite heavy redactions by the County, Mr. Flanagan has identified emails showing that the County Executive’s office wanted to avoid a public meeting in which differences amongst members of the Ellicott City Community Development Corporation Exploration Committee (“Ellicott City CDC Exploration Committee”) could be observed by the public. Flanagan’s Amended Complaint describes how the Office of County Executive cancelled the final meeting on May 29, 2019, at the same time it insisted that the Committee Report had to be completed by May 31, 2019. The Committee, as a quorum, engaged in deliberations on repeated drafts of the report on May 29-30th using emails that the County is withholding. The mechanism by which the Act was violated on this occasion and earlier, was that the Office of County Executive emailed different drafts to the Committee members for comment. The amended complaint describes at least three separate occasions when the Act was violated.
In open Court on November 17, 2021, the Honorable Robert Greenberg was obviously displeased that Howard County had not complied with the mandates of the Public Information Act. This confirmed Flanagan’s claim that the County was stonewalling just as it had done to a similar request by Timothy Dull. Mr. Dull spent over five months and obtained assistance from the State’s Public Information Act Ombudsman without success. When Howard County stubbornly refused to produce over 300 emails, he decided not to file a lawsuit. However, Flanagan took a different tack. Now that Howard County is before the court, it is forced to admit that its claims of privilege have been vastly overstated. It has begrudgingly produced more than 700 pages of new information but continues its fight to hide the emails that the County Executive used to violate the Opens Meeting Act.
The information the County has been forced to provide, raises concerns surrounding the County Executive’s hidden agenda for the future of the Court House property that was the subject of the Committee’s Report. Recently, Mr. Ball missed the opportunity to be forthcoming about his plans for residential and commercial mixed-use development when the Howard County Department of Public Works submitted ZB 1126 M (Courthouse).
This zoning change proposal now sits side by side with the recommendations of the Howard County CDC Committee in favor of creating a non-profit Community Development Organization to be controlled by a board of directors appointed by the County Executive with a vast opened ended portfolio of social programs. The Report states:
To be successful the CDO must be granted a robust base of county or state-owned real estate assets to champion. The assets would be conveyed to the CDO at no cost after physical stabilization/ environmental remediation is conducted by the county. Assets could include
Main Street Buildings acquired by the County
The Court House Property
County owned parking lots
The former Post Office and
Any other properties the CDO pursues in the watershed area in Howard County or Baltimore County.(June 1, 2019Report, Exhibit F, at page 13, emphasis added)
This recommendation to create a “cash flow” for new social programs are conspicuously absent from Calvin Balls press release on June 14, 2019, in which the Committee’s recommendations are described in detail. Emails that were produced under Court order prove that the County’s Executive’s Office exercised final editorial power over the Report and approved its content. The County Executive has already violated the Maryland Public Information Act and the Open Meetings Act to keep his intentions secret. The public has the right to demand information about what the County Executive is planning.
To request a copy of the Amended Complaint and supporting exhibits you may contact me at RobertLFlanagan@gmail.com.
Here is the PDF sent to Scott E’s Blog: MPIA memo to Public
Article update: Here is the Amended Complaint and supporting exhibits attached: Scanned-image12-21-2021-093759
Here is additional information shared in the past on this story:
Bob Flanagan is suing Howard County for access to Public Records; Local Howard County podcaster Tom Coale a key figure in the suit