Harford council members defend lifting two-year ban on council members getting county jobs

Harford County Council members say a charter amendment they recently approved allowing ex-council members to get county jobs immediately after leaving office was not prompted by any ulterior motives.

Earlier this month, the council passed seven charter amendments, including one removing a two-year ban on council members getting county government jobs. The ban has existed since the original charter was written in the early 1970s and approved by county voters in November 1972.

County Councilman Jim McMahan said there was "no ulterior motive" to the amendment, just a desire to replace an outdated rule.

"As stated before, I think it is antiquated," he wrote in an email. "Matter of fact, other than telling [Council President] Billy [Boniface] what I was going to do as a matter of protocol, I didn't even discuss it with others before submitting the amendment."

McMahan said no one approached him about the proposal, and he researched what other Baltimore-area counties do before putting in the amendment.

"The [L]eague of [Women] Voters did not even raise a question about it on hearing night and I consider them a valid watchdog of the political process," he wrote.

"I asked myself three questions[:] What does the two[-]year provision accomplish? What does it safeguard against? How does it benefit Harford County? I could not come up with a positive answer while at the same time a person who served as an elected official could bring a voice from the constituency and a wealth [of] knowledge to a job if offered," he wrote.

McMahan said an individual has no inherent power when returning to government service after having been elected.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said she did not know the origin of the proposed charter amendment, but agreed it made sense.

Lisanti said she did research to see what other major counties in Maryland do.

"It's exactly the same all across the board, except for Harford County," she said.

While other counties forbid council members from getting county jobs while in office, they make no prohibition on getting them afterward, she said.

"I look at it as an equal access to employment [issue]," she said.

With the charter amendments, however, ultimately "it's the voter's decision about whether this makes sense or not," she said.

Robert Carson, one of the five members who wrote the original charter, said he had no problem with the charter amendment.

"I have no objection to that amendment," he said during a phone interview Thursday.

He could not recall the exact justification for the original restriction because it took place 40 years ago.

"Obviously we were concerned that the council not create positions and then appoint themselves to those positions," Carson said.

"That is not a present concern that I have," he said, adding he does not believe such a thing would happen.

"I don't think the people on the present council would do that," he said.

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