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‘It was a mistake:’ Baltimore County councilwoman rents Middle River apartment after purchasing home outside district

County councilwoman Cathy Bevins speaking at high water rescue unit at Bowleys Quarters.
County councilwoman Cathy Bevins speaking at high water rescue unit at Bowleys Quarters. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said she is now living in a Middle River apartment after briefly moving to a home outside the 6th District she represents, despite a county charter requirement that council members live in the district they represent.

Bevins said she made a mistake when she purchased a home in the 5th District after she was told, erroneously, by the council’s legislative attorney that doing so would not violate the county charter.

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To rectify the error, according to Bevins and state records filed last week, she is now leasing the Middle River apartment.

“I’m back in Middle River and I will remain here,” said Bevins, a Democrat. “Anybody can read into that what they want — I didn’t hide anything.”

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A Republican party official filed an ethics complaint about the move with Baltimore County’s inspector general.

State property records and financial disclosure forms show that Bevins and her husband purchased their waterfront property along the Gunpowder River in Middle River in 2007, and sold it in June 2020 for $565,000. They then moved to a $2,300-a-month Middle River apartment before moving again, to a home in Perry Hall in September this year.

Bevins and her husband purchased a two-story home on Kendi Road this summer for $365,000, according to state records. They signed a deed July 30 showing the home is owner-occupied, according to state land records. The couple purchased the home after Bevins’ husband grew tired of apartment living, she said.

That moved her westward from the 6th District, which stretches from Middle River through Rosedale and north to Parkville, which Bevins has represented since 2010, to just over the border into the 5th District surrounding Kingsville, Perry Hall and Towson, currently represented by Republican Councilman David Marks.

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Baltimore County’s charter requires that council members live in the district that they represent for two years before and during their entire term in office. If any council member moves their residence outside the councilmanic district in which they lived during the time of their election, the charter says, their office “shall be forthwith vacated.”

But Bevins said the council’s legislative attorney, Thomas Bostwick, advised her that the charter said only that a representative had to live in their district for at least two years before running for election.

Bostwick corroborated Bevins’ account.

“I tried to correct it as fast as possible,” Bevins said. “It was a mistake.”

Bevins said she has submitted an address-change form with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to reflect that her primary address is the Middle River apartment and not the Perry Hall home.

Bevins said she will remain in the apartment for the remainder of her term, which ends in 2022, and that she plans to run for reelection.

A draft redistricting plan — vehemently opposed by civil rights groups — aims to redraw the boundaries of the 6th and 5th districts. The Perry Hall property, should the plan be approved by the council, would remain within the boundaries of the 5th District, according to the Baltimore County Board of Elections.

Tax records show Bevins has not applied for homeowner tax credits for the Kendi Road property, which has a Nottingham mailing address because of its ZIP code. Such credits could reduce tax payments owed for a principal residence.

The county elections board was notified of Bevins’ address change in August through a multistate electronic voter registration database, which indicated a July move date. The elections board processed the address change last month.

Al Mendelsohn, a vice chair for the Maryland Republican Party Central Committee and former chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, said he submitted an ethics complaint to the county’s inspector general, Kelly Madigan, regarding the address change.

It is not an adequate excuse, he said, that Bevins rents an apartment in her district if she’s listed as the occupant of a home outside it.

Madigan would not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation following the complaint.

The chairman of the Baltimore County Council said he’s not questioning Bevins’ residence.

Bevins “has assured me that she lives in the [6th] district,” said Julian Jones, a Democrat. “And that’s good for enough for me.”

A 1998 Maryland Court of Appeals opinion could help determine Bevins’ residency. The appellate court sided with former state Senate Majority Leader Clarence Blount, whom an Anne Arundel Circuit judge had ruled could not run for reelection because he rented an apartment in Northwest Baltimore but did not reside there full time.

The Court of Appeals acknowledged that Blount’s apartment in Northwest Baltimore — where there was no telephone and only a futon for Blount to sleep on — was not his home. But, it ruled, that doesn’t really matter.

“The requirement is that one must be domiciled in the district, and domicile is not synonymous with primary place of abode,” the 29-page opinion written by Judge John C. Eldridge says.

Should a council vacancy occur, the law requires Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee members whose legislative district is wholly or partially within the vacated councilmanic district to vote to select one nominee that the county executive would then confirm.

The person selected by the State Central Committee and forwarded to the county executive would need to reside in the same council district as the predecessor.

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