Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. has asked Maryland’s top lawyer to weigh in on who may remove a sitting council member from office if they run afoul of local law.
The inquiry comes after Councilwoman Cathy Bevins moved into a home she and her husband purchased in Perry Hall, outside the boundaries of her 6th District, which encompasses Middle River, Overlea, and parts of Rosedale and Parkville. Baltimore County’s charter says council members must live in the district they were elected for two years before the election and during the course of their term.
Bevins said she is renting an apartment in Middle River to stay in compliance with the county charter, after signing the deed for the Perry Hall home at the end of July.
According to a letter addressed to Attorney General Brian Frosh and obtained by The Baltimore Sun, Olszewski, a Democrat, asked the opinion of Frosh’s office on two issues facing the county: Who determines what constitutes a “residence change?” and who may take action should a council member be found to have violated the county charter?
“The Charter and County Code do not specify who determines what constitutes a residence or when a residence has been changed, which makes it seem that neither I, as County Executive, nor the County Council has the authority to make a determination,” Olszewski wrote in the letter.
Even if local law was explicit about who holds such authority, Olszewski wrote that it’s unclear what enforcement provisions would be “pertaining to technical or substantive violations of the residency requirements” and who should impose them.
The law 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,” he wrote.
The letter seeks to clarify provisions in county law that broadly empower the executive to enforce state and local law within the county. Asked whether Olszewski is preparing to take any action regarding Bevins’ move, spokesman Sean Naron said: “The county executive remains committed to fully enforcing all local laws.”
Asked Nov. 15 about the letter, Bevins said: “It is what it is.”
“I’ve been as transparent as I can be,” she said.
Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment and said opinions “take months of research.”
Bevins, a Democrat, has said she moved outside her district after the council’s legislative attorney erroneously told her she could do so.
Bevins said last month that she has changed her address with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to reflect that her primary address is now the Middle River apartment. She also requested an address change through the U.S. Postal Service. She’s said she’ll remain in the apartment for the remainder of her term, which ends in 2022, and that she plans to run for reelection.
Bevins said she had her name added to the apartment’s lease, which was originally signed by her son. She has not yet changed the address on her driver’s license, but plans to do so, she said.
The Baltimore County Board of Elections said it typically takes up to two months for it to receive notification regarding an address change. The board is notified automatically of address changes that update voter registration information through a multistate voter registration database. It shows Bevins moved to Perry Hall in July, but did not update her voter registration information until September.
At least one county resident filed a complaint about the move with the county inspector general’s office. Bevins has had two interviews with Inspector General Kelly Madigan regarding the home purchase.
She said she tries to split her time between the apartment and the Perry Hall home, where her husband lives.
“I’m still working for the public every day. That never stopped for one moment,” she said. “I have no plans to resign — I have too many projects that are in the works right now.”
Some county residents called for Bevins’ resignation. But Jim Hock, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association within the 6th District, said the issue’s been “blown way out of proportion.”
“I’m concerned about how someone performs doing their job and how they help our community; not whether or not they moved a few miles outside of that community,” he said.