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Baltimore County IG: Councilwoman who moved to home outside her district violated county charter

A report issued Tuesday by Baltimore County’s inspector general says that Councilwoman Cathy Bevins violated the county charter when she briefly moved to a home outside her district.

Inspector General Kelly Madigan wrote that the charter does not contain enforcement provisions related to violations of council residency requirements. As a result, she referred the matter of enforcement to the county’s law office to address.

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The report comes after Madigan’s office investigated several complaints related to Bevins.

The Democratic councilwoman moved in early September from a Middle River home to a Perry Hall house that she and her husband purchased. It is outside the boundaries of her 6th District seat, which encompasses Middle River, Overlea and parts of Rosedale and Parkville.

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The charter says council members must live in the district where they seek a seat for two years before an election and during their four-year term. The next election is in 2022 and Bevins plans to seek reelection.

Bevins has said, and the inspector general reported, that she bought the home after receiving erroneous legal advice in May from the council’s attorney, Thomas Bostwick. Madigan noted in her report that Bevins was never given legal advice about how to correct the mistake, nor did she attempt to obscure the move from council members or the public.

The inspector general’s office recommended the County Council revise the charter to include enforcement actions to address violations.

Bevins agreed.

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“The council needs to look at this issue and have something put in the charter so this doesn’t happen to anybody again,” Bevins said.

The report follows a request last week by Democratic County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. to state Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office for input on how to enforce the charter should a violation occur. The attorney general’s office indicated last week that it won’t be a quick answer, saying its opinions “take months of research.”

County Attorney James Benjamin told The Baltimore Sun last week that the law office had not written an opinion on the matter.

The charter doesn’t “specify who can declare a vacancy if a Councilmember moves from his or her residence, or who can remove a Councilmember from his or her office if a vacancy has been found to exist,” wrote Olszewski, seeking to clarify provisions in county law that broadly empower the executive to enforce state and local law within the county.

However, Democratic Council Chair Julian Jones said he is satisfied with the charter’s language, which he says empowers voters to decide a council member’s fate. The charter may have been written vaguely to preclude council members from ousting each other, he said.

“When the citizens elect someone, there’s a very, very, very high bar for that person to be removed. And only the citizens can remove them,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the charter.”

Baltimore County did not provide a written response to incorporate in Madigan’s report, as it has for her previous investigations. In a statement Tuesday, county spokesman Sean Naron said the law office is researching “the legal issues raised in this report” and awaiting the guidance from the attorney general’s office.

Bevins signed on Oct. 18 to the lease of her son’s Middle River apartment, splitting her time between the rental and the Perry Hall house, where her husband lives. It’s less than a half-mile over the line into her district.

Bevins said she’s also changed her address with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to reflect that her primary address is the Middle River apartment. She had signed a deed for the Perry Hall property on July 30, showing the home was owner-occupied.

“It’s all I can do for now,” the Democrat said.

She can’t sell the Perry Hall house, she said: “To put it right back on the market, I’m gonna lose a tremendous amount of money.”

“I’m in the district, I’m working every day, my staff is working every day,” she said.

Jones said Bevins has done “what is necessary to remedy the situation.”

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