Arundel council shoots down proposal for special elections to fill vacancies

Anne Arundel County Councilman Chris Trumbauer said this past week's failure to adopt a special election to replace council members who leave office early was his most disappointing moment in politics.

"This was an opportunity to restore the power to the people," Trumbauer said. "This is America; we should be able to say who represents us."

Trumbauer, an Annapolis Democrat, proposed holding special elections for council vacancies if there's at least one year left in the term. The effort failed at Monday's council meeting.

The proposal would have put the proposal on November's ballot for voters to decide as an amendment to the county's charter. But Trumbauer failed to get the required five votes on the seven-member council.

Voting with Trumbauer in favor were Democrats Daryl Jones of Severn and Jamie Benoit of Crownsville and Republican Jerry Walker of Gambrills. Voting against the ballot question were Republicans Derek Fink of Pasadena, Dick Ladd of Broadneck and Council Chairman John Grasso of Glen Burnie.

Some residents supported the ballot question for special elections. Those included Patric Enright of Gambrills, who served on a commission that reviewed the county's charter and suggested the special election process.

Enright said a new state law would allow the elections to be conducted by mail, making it a less expensive option — about $34,000 per election — to allow voters to chose replacement councilmen.

Currently, council members appoint replacements in most instances and must stay within the party of the person who left the council. The special elections would have been open to all parties and independents, with a primary election and a general election.

In recent years, the council has had to make several appointments to fill vacancies — sometimes with controversy.

Most recently, council members removed Jones from his seat when he served time in federal jail on a tax charge in 2012. It took more than 100 votes over multiple meetings for the council to select Pete Smith as a replacement. After a court fight, Jones was reinstated to his seat.

In 2009, council members made two appointments. First, they appointed Republican Tricia Johnson to fill the seat of Ed Reilly, who accepted an appointment to a seat in the state Senate. A few months later, they appointed Democrat Chuck Ferrar to replace Josh Cohen, who left his seat on the council after winning the race for mayor of Annapolis.

Both Ferrar and Johnson lost in the next year's primary elections.

County Council members will consider two more changes to the charter at a special daytime meeting this week.

The council is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Annapolis to consider proposals from Jones to make the job of county attorney an elected position or to give the council a confirmation vote on the county attorney.

The special meeting is necessary because the deadline to put a question on the November ballot is in August. The council has a mandatory recess in August.

The meeting will include a public hearing on Jones' proposals as well as other council business.

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