The Carroll County Republican Central Committee added a new member last week, though no vote was officially taken, creating internal conflict among the group.
Chris Tomlinson was officially sworn in on Tuesday, Nov. 14, after being chosen by committee Chair Larry Helminiak. Tomlinson was one of four people who applied for the position and replaces Matt Helminiak, who resigned in August.
“I’m honored to have been selected,” said Tomlinson, who was picked over applicants Joe Leeman, Bruce Holstein and Jeffrey Peters.
Tomlinson, 31, who in recent years ran for mayor of Manchester; worked on the campaigns of several Republican elected officials, including Del. Haven Shoemaker and Gov. Larry Hogan; and began writing a regular opinion column for the Carroll County Times, said he’s excited to see the committee bring “young blood” in with fresh ideas.
“I think it’ll help with trying to kind of get new Republicans involved,” Tomlinson said.
Central committees help register voters, offer assistance to those seeking office and, during larger elections like for the governor or president, maintain a campaign headquarters. The state constitution also grants the power to the central committees to recommend names to the governor for replacements to fill vacancies in the legislature.
Earlier this year, Larry Helminiak appointed 21-year-old Fallon Patton, of Finksburg, to the committee to fill a vacancy created by the May resignation of Don Hoffman.
Similar to Patton’s appointment, Helminiak said Tomlinson was sworn in after 80 days had passed from the time of the vacancy, pursuant to the committee’s bylaws.
A few members of the nine-person central committee have taken issue with the process.
“I feel that the committee should come to a consensus on these things,” said Kathy Fuller. “When we have a period of time set out in our bylaws … those 80 days should be used trying to get the committee to come to a consensus on a [new] member.”
Instead, those days were used up by the chair, she said.
“We should have been allowed to use that time to come to a decision but that’s not what happened,” Fuller said.
Normally, Helminiak said, the committee has a meeting to interview the candidates and then a candidate is chosen after a majority of the committee votes for one person. The last meeting of the Republican Central Committee was held in September, he said, but it was adjourned before the candidates were discussed, so no vote was taken. Then, Helminiak canceled the regularly scheduled October central committee meeting via email, allowing the 80-day window to close before the group met again.
The Republican Central Committee usually meets on the fourth Thursday of the month. Helminiak sent an email, dated Oct. 20, canceling the Oct. 26 meeting.
“Committee: I am cancelling the October regular business meeting of the Central Committee,” Helminiak wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Times. Some committee members have questioned whether Helminiak, as chair, should be able to participate in the first round of voting for new members to fill vacancies, which was the subject of September’s meeting.
This came after the committee argued over whether or not the chair should be allowed to vote for the new member, Helminiak said, something the committee is split over.
Melissa Caudill, vice chair of the committee, said during the last round of voting when Patton was ultimately chosen, Helminiak ostensibly voted twice — once in the original 4-4 vote and again when he made the decision as chair after 80 days. This time around, Caudill said, some members of the committee wanted to discuss procedure, because, as she reads the bylaws, the chair can only vote if the committee agrees to it.
The bylaws state “the election shall be by secret ballot at which the chair shall vote in accordance with procedures agreed upon by the committee.”
Helminiak said that means he can vote on decisions about new members. But not everyone on the committee has interpreted the bylaws that way.
Out of that discussion at the September meeting, no one could come to an agreement, Caudill said.
“It didn’t get anywhere, so the meeting was adjourned,” she said.
Helminiak said Jim Reter motioned to adjourn the meeting, which was seconded by Fuller.
“They knowingly and willingly adjourned the meeting before we set up the date to interview candidates,” Helminiak said. “Therefore, I chose the person after 80 days.”
Caudill said she thought the discussion over procedure, and the vote, would be taken at a later date.
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Bylaws do indicate a vote should be taken after the opening has been advertised: “The resumes shall be distributed to the members of the committee at the next regular meeting. At that meeting, the chair shall set and announce the time, date and place of a special meeting to interview the candidates and conduct the election.” But the bylaws also indicate if the vacancy isn’t filled within the allotted time, the chair can appoint the member. “If a vacancy has not been filled within the eighty (80) day period commencing on the date of the vacancy, the vacancy may be filled by the chair.”
Fuller also said there were many good candidates for the new position who have supported and been active with the central committee in the past, and those people weren’t chosen. She said she’s worried Tomlinson doesn’t know the committee’s processes and what its goals are.
This is not the first time the Carroll County Republican Central Committee has had internal clashes among factions in recent years.
In 2015, Fuller, Caudill and Amy Gilford filed a lawsuit in response to Gov. Larry Hogan’s request that central committees send three names to him for consideration as potential replacement delegates.
The lawsuit came after the central committee first chose former Carroll County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier for a state Senate seat that was vacated when Joseph Getty was tabbed to join Hogan’s cabinet. The Senate seat eventually went to then-Del. Justin Ready after the governor requested more names, creating another vacancy in the House. The lawsuit was ultimately denied by the state’s high court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, allowing the committee to send multiple names, but the central committee was unable to meet prior to the deadline to vet the 27 applications they received for the vacant delegate seat, leaving the decision up to Hogan, who selected April Rose for the job.
Tomlinson said in regard to the recent disputes, that he plans to stay above the fray.
“I don’t plan on getting involved in whatever infighting has been going on for years,” he said. “My goal is to get in there and make sure conservative-minded people get into office in 2018 because it’s going to be a tough election.”