A Howard County citizens’ petition to bring certain decisions in the county’s recently passed comprehensive zoning bill to referendum will not move on to the ballot next November, according to county Board of Elections Director Guy Mickley.
Mickley said the group of petitioners, Citizens Working to Fix Howard County, had gathered enough valid signatures to meet the necessary minimum of 5,390 names.
But the issue was with the way the group described the contents of the petition, which by law had to be short enough to fit on one side of a sheet of paper.
Mickley said he made the decision based on a Nov. 25 meeting in which the BOE’s legal counsel advised him that the petition did not meet all of the legal requirements necessary for it to be accepted as a ballot question.
Specifically, Mickley said, the petition did not provide “a fair and accurate summary of the substantive provisions of the proposal,” one of the requirements under Maryland election law for a petition to make it onto the ballot.
But Lisa Markovitz, chair of the Citizens Working to Fix Howard County, said the group had followed all the rules.
"We asked for approval and requirement information ahead of time and we followed all of their standards and requirements and regulations," she said. "And now that we have succeeded... the Board Of Elections is actually reversing its opinion. And for them to throw out a legitimate referendum now is just outrageous."
The attorney retained by the Board of Elections to give legal advice on the petition, Jerry Richman, maintained that the one-page summary of the petitioners’ issues with the comprehensive zoning bill, which included much-debated zoning decisions in Savage, Maple Lawn, Elkridge and elsewhere, “wasn’t a fair summary of any section [of the comprehensive zoning bill], to my knowledge.”
Richman declined to speculate on how the petitioners could have crafted a more legally sound document. “They could have elected to put one particular zoning issue on each and they could have had a lot of petitions… How they did it is their business,” he said. “It became the Board of Elections' business when they sought to petition it to referendum and they elected to place [multiple issues on one petition].”
Asked about the referendum the morning before the decision was released, County Executive Ken Ulman said he continued to "support the citizens' right to democracy."
"But," he added, "it also has to be done in a way that is fair and accurate."
Markovitz said the citizens' group would appeal the Board of Elections' decision.
"We’re in it for the the long haul and we’re not going to see this many citizens’ views thwarted," she said.