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May 9, 2016

BREAKING: Closed-Door Decision on "Talbot Boys" Confederate Monument Ruled a Violation of Maryland Open Meetings Law

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EASTON, MD - The Talbot County Council violated Maryland's Open Meetings Act when it held closed-door sessions to discuss and vote upon an NAACP request to remove the "Talbot Boys" Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn in Easton. That is the legal ruling from the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board, in response to a February 2016 complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and the Talbot County Branch of the NAACP (NAACP) asking the Board to declare the county's actions illegal.

"We are elated by the opinion from the Opening Meeting Compliance Board in recognizing that our elected county officials have an obligation to conduct all business openly in front of its constituent base. We will now wait to see how the council plans to rectify this violation," said Richard Potter, Talbot NAACP President.

The "Talbot Boys" monument, erected in 1916, celebrates soldiers from Talbot County who fought for the Confederacy against the United States during the Civil War.  Although many more Talbot men fought for the Union, Talbot County leaders of the day refused to memorialize Union soldiers from the community, electing instead to honor only those who died for the Confederacy.  The statue depicts a Confederate soldier with a Confederate battle flag draped across his back, and bears the caption "To the Talbot Boys, 1861-1865, C.S.A."

Many African Americans consider the statue an affront to their humanity - a symbol of racism and injustice at the one place in the community meant to be dedicated to serving justice for all, the County Courthouse.  On this basis, the Talbot NAACP last July asked the County to consider moving the statue to an alternative location dedicated to historic preservation rather than justice.  

While the process undertaken by the County began in an open fashion, with the Council meeting the NAACP to hear its proposal and inviting community residents to attend public forums to air their opinions, "it shifted dramatically when it came the Council's turn to debate and vote upon removal or retention of the Talbot Boys statue," the Complaint alleged. "When Council members themselves were called upon to discuss the matter and vote, they flouted all principles of openness, deciding in secret to retain the monument, and subsequently providing no minutes of these closed discussions."

"We are so pleased that the Open Meetings Compliance Board recognized the significant policy-making implications of the Talbot County Council's decision on this core racial justice issue, and has told the County, in no uncertain terms, that the people have a right to demand that their elected officials conduct the public's business in public," said Deborah Jeon, ACLU Legal Director.

When questioned last winter about the process the County followed in reaching decision to retain the monument, the County Attorney dismissed the NAACP challenge as "frivolous", and claimed the decision about the monument was nothing more than a "routine administrative matter" exempt from the coverage of the Open Meetings Act.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board disagreed.  Options now available to the County include reconsidering its decision with public notice and participation, or facing a court challenge over the matter.