Anne Arundel County Councilman Daryl A. Jones needs to resign, and he needs to do it immediately. Mr. Jones, a Severn Democrat, was sentenced Monday to five months in jail for failing to file dozens of personal and business tax returns over a six-year period, and the specter of a councilman continuing to serve from jail would be an embarrassment to the people of Anne Arundel County.
Mr. Jones explains away his negligence by claiming to have over-extended himself with running a business, serving on the council and caring for a terminally ill mother and mentally ill brother. But Judge Ellen L. Hollander was quite right to note that such an excuse doesn't wash considering the duration of his crime. And make no mistake, repeated failure to file tax returns is a serious crime for anyone, and more so for a public official who is responsible in part for setting local tax policy. It sends a terrible message for someone who helps set property taxes, recordation taxes, transfer taxes and assorted fines and fees to fail to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in income taxes, fees and interest. The conviction alone should be enough reason for him to step down.
The fact that he will be spending five months in prison in a sentence that also includes six months of home detention and a year of probation makes his resignation all the more necessary. As a practical matter, the people of Mr. Jones' district should not have to go without representation for five months. As a matter of fairness and justice, it is doubtful that many of his constituents would be allowed to keep their jobs — and even keep being paid — while they were in jail. Most employers would probably consider the inability to perform for five months, much less a criminal conviction, grounds for dismissal.
But in a glaring omission, the Anne Arundel County charter contains no provision for a member of the council to be removed for any reason other than moving outside of his or her district. Neither the county executive nor the other members of the council have the power to remove Mr. Jones. Nor is there any provision that would call for the county to stop paying his $36,000 a year salary or his health and retirement benefits while he is in prison.
The charter does include a provision allowing five of the seven council members to remove the executive if he or she is convicted of "crime involving moral turpitude, of misfeasance or malfeasance in office, or fails actively to perform the daily duties and responsibilities of his office … for a continuous period of six months." The other members of the council should immediately seek to extend a similar provision to themselves, or, better yet, propose a charter amendment incorporating some of the stricter standards in effect in other jurisdictions.
In Baltimore County, officials who are removed from office because of a criminal conviction also forfeit any pension benefits accrued after the crime took place. Baltimore City has a provision allowing for the removal of the City Council president by a vote of two-thirds of council members for "incompetency, willful neglect of duty or misdemeanor in office." (Curiously, though, the city does not include a similar provisions for the 14 other council members.) The charters in Harford and Howard counties call for the immediate and automatic removal from office of any member convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude."
It is crucial, though, that Mr. Jones not take too long in "doing an assessment" of his options, as he has promised. If he resigns by Dec. 6, the one-year anniversary of his swearing-in for a second term, the council will appoint a temporary replacement who would serve until a new council member could be elected in November 2012. If he resigns after that date, the fill-in would serve through 2014.
When the voters went to the polls last year, they were unaware of the charges against him (he was not indicted until Aug. 3 of this year, and pleaded guilty later that month). Even so, he faced a strong challenge in the 2010 general election from Republican John E. Moran IV, suggesting that replacing Mr. Jones with a Democrat selected by the remaining council members — as the charter would require — wouldn't necessarily be the choice of his constituents. The one redeeming step Mr. Jones could take at this point would be to resign promptly so the people of his district get the chance to elect whomever they deem most qualified to represent them.