The Laurel Board of Election Supervisors Monday night unanimously voted to extend the submission deadline of financial disclosure forms for the three challengers in the Laurel City Council election after the Ethics Commission found the submissions unsatisfactory.
At a public meeting last week, the Ethics Commission found omissions on the forms submitted by Ward 1 challenger John Smith, Ward 2 challenger Thomas Matthews and at-large challenger Adrian Rousseau, which led the Board of Elections to call an emergency meeting on Monday, Sept. 23.
At the emergency meeting, the board voted to extend the deadline for the challengers to 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26. Clerk to the city council Kimberly Rau said the three challengers will be notified by e-mail and hand delivered letters of the extended deadline.
All three could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to Election Board chairman John Kish, the forms for all three candidates, who were the only three of the eight Council candidates to not attend the commission's meeting, lacked basic information like address, place of employment, income and debts.
"Their forms were not complete. This would be a reason for them not to be eligible to run for the council," Kish said. "I figured since they are new at this. Let's get a letter out to them and give them a chance to complete the form."
According to Rau, all eight candidates were notified of the Ethics Commission meeting by e-mail and mail.
Kish said the inexperience of the Council candidates, who all except Rousseau have never run for city office before, may have factored into the incompleteness of the forms. The suggestion, which came from the Board of Election Supervisor's outside counsel, was made to be fair, Kish said.
"We just want the election to run fair and smooth," Kish said. "We don't want any problems later on saying this was rigged. I just want to be fair about the whole thing."
While Kish and the Board made the ruling out of fairness, some of the five remaining council candidates, all incumbents, think it is unfair to those who completed the process correctly.
"I certainly understand the board but sometimes I think we bend over backward for other candidates," said Council member Donna Crary, who is running for reelection in Ward 2. "It's frustrating when you do all the things you should do as a candidate."
Council member Ed Ricks, who is running for reelection in Ward 1, said the incident "throws the whole process into limbo."
"If you are going to be on the council, you have to know what your obligations are and what you are getting into," said Ricks. "It leaves one to wonder, if they get in, what kind of Council member will they be?"
Council member Valerie Nicholas, who is running in Ward 1, said she supports the ruling.
"I don't know what conclusion to draw but I think it's a fair process. They are giving them a second opportunity and that's good," she said.
Ricks, Crary and Nicholas were the only three candidates in attendance for the Board of Elections Supervisor's meeting Monday.
At the Ethics Commission meeting last week, the commission also discussed incumbent and current City Council President Fred Smalls and his relationship with Laurel Regional Hospital. Smalls currently serves as chairman of the hospital's board of directors and also serves on the board of directors for Dimensions Healthcare System, which manages the hospital along with three others in Prince George's County.
Smalls, who has served on the council for 11 years and the hospital board for nine, said he "understands and respects" the ethics commission's question.
"I don't have a problem with it," Smalls said. "I think it's more just let's proceed with caution."
The commission strongly recommended Smalls, if elected, seek and advisory opinion from the commission on potential conflicts of interest.