Arundel council again fails to break impasse

Peter Smith, left, and Michael Wagner, right, are candidates for a vacant seat in Anne Arundel County.
Peter Smith, left, and Michael Wagner, right, are candidates for a vacant seat in Anne Arundel County. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Kenneth K. Lam)

The Anne Arundel County Council on Monday night failed to break an impasse over two finalists for a vacancy on the council and delayed a new vote for another two weeks. The deadlock has brought the council widespread criticism.

After voting four times and remaining split 3-3 along partisan lines between candidates Peter I. Smith and Michael J. Wagner, the council voted unanimously to postpone another vote.

"I'm somewhat disappointed that we find ourselves in the same situation," said Councilman Chris Trumbauer, an Annapolis Democrat, who proposed the delay. "We all equally share blame. … We could sit up here all night and keep saying names. … I don't want to sit up here for an hour, two hours just for show and keep saying the same names over and over."

Monday's vote marks the fourth time the council has met to vote on a replacement for Daryl D. Jones, who began serving a five-month prison term in January for failing to file a tax return. The council voted unanimously to declare Jones' seat vacant and begin the process of appointing a replacement.

Ten candidates applied to represent District 1, which includes the northern end of the county, and the council whittled them down to two finalists, both Democrats: Smith, a Marine reservist and Defense Department employee from Severn, and Wagner, a business owner and former state senator.

Since then, however, the council has remained deadlocked over whom to appoint. After the meeting recessed, council members expressed frustration with the deadlock but remained steadfast in their support of a particular candidate.

Councilman Jamie Benoit said the indictment Friday of County Executive John R. Leopold — on charges that he used his taxpayer-funded security detail to take him to sexual rendezvous and to defeat political opponents — would ensure that Benoit would continue to support Smith.

Wagner has said he applied for the position at the urging of a top former Leopold administration official.

"I'm very frustrated," said Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat. "I'm concerned about our ability to appoint a new member who is free from the influence of other politicians. To the extent it was important before Friday, it's mandatory now."

Councilman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican, supports Wagner, as do his Republican colleagues Richard B. "Dick" Ladd of Broadneck, and John J. Grasso of Glen Burnie. He said he's eager to see the issue resolved.

"It's horrible," said Fink. "We obviously need representation — it's best for District 1. … Both sides are talking. We're going back and forth."

Smith, who attended the meeting, called the deadlock "unfortunate."

"I just wish we had the opportunity to plead our case," said Smith. "Maybe something I would say or Mr. Wagner says will be persuasive."

Devin Tucker, a Russett resident who attended the meeting, said he was "disappointed" by the council's inaction.

"They're awful," he said as he left the meeting. "It's time to show some leadership. Someone has to."

Another hot-button issue discussed at the meeting was a bill proposed by Councilman Jerry Walker, which would declare English the official language in the county. A similar bill was passed in February in Frederick County.

Walker, a Gambrills Republican, announced that he would withdraw the bill because of recent incidents of council members using "racially charged rhetoric." Ladd recently used a racial slur at a council meeting.

"I think there's been racially charged rhetoric from not only Mr. Ladd but Mr. Grasso, and my interest in introducing the bill was not racially motivated," said Walker. "So I don't want the issues raised to be confused with my bill, which I'm afraid is happening."

Grasso has been criticized for referring to low-income housing in Glen Burnie as a "ghetto" and for discounting the importance of diversity on the council.

Walker has said he wanted to pass the bill as a deterrent to illegal immigrants.

About 20 people testified in opposition to the bill.

Christian Olson, a Crownsville resident, said he was "outraged" when he heard about the bill.

"This bill serves no useful purposes," said Olson. "It's a bare expression of hate. … There's no logical connection between this bill and addressing illegal immigration."

Walker said he plans to reintroduce the bill "in the future" but said there's no timeline.

"It was a campaign promise that I'm committed to seeing through."


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