Taneytown to hold special election Tuesday


Taneytown residents will vote Tuesday, Nov. 15, on whether to amend the city's charter to allow elected officials to be removed from office under certain circumstances.

Voters can select "Yes, I vote FOR the Charter amendment allowing provisions for the removal of duly elected officials" or "No, I vote AGAINST the Charter amendment, which will prohibit the provisions for the removal of duly elected officials."


The special election comes after the Taneytown City Council approved a resolution April 11 that outlines the process to remove an elected official from office. A special election was prompted after a petition was signed by at least 20 percent of the city's registered voters.

The exact wording of the question will be "On whether to amend the City Charter to allow elected officials to be removed from office for three unexcused consecutive meeting absences; for violations of criminal law, Federal or State law, County codes, the City's Ethics Ordinance, or provisions of the City Charter and Code; by recall election by the voters of the City of Taneytown."


According to Maryland Municipal League's Director of Research Jim Peck, 35 Maryland municipalities have recall provisions in their charter. Almost all have charter provisions that address filling vacancies.

"These things are not uncommon," Peck said. "The majority of municipalities have language in their charters that deal with vacancy and among those things would be someone not showing up for a meeting; misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance in the office; and conviction of a felony. Some of them talk about failure to comply with the charter."

In the case of a vacancy or a person failing to meet the requirements of office, Peck said the MML advises municipalities to have provisions that address those issues.

"We don't have recommended language but we encourage them to look at other charters," Peck said.


Peck said Maryland municipalities have broad local home rule authority that allows them to conduct their affairs as they see fit.

"MML is strongly supportive of that home rule authority," he said. "Home rule authority was put into the Maryland Constitution in 1955."

In terms of a charter amendment going to referendum, Peck said that is extremely rare.

"Only a dozen at most in the last 30 or so years," Peck said.

Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, an attorney by trade, said he considers the resolution "a housekeeping process."

"I was Mayor of Hampstead and, as I recall, we have something similar on the books with respect to missing meetings in particular," Shoemaker said. "I believe other towns have enacted similar measures."

According to Hampstead's code, a council member may be removed from office and their seat declared vacant if the member is absent without being excused by the Council for four consecutive, regularly-scheduled Council meetings; the member ceases to be qualified as required by the Charter; the member is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude; or the member is convicted of any violation of local or state laws where such penalty includes forfeiture of office.

If one or more of the aforementioned conditions are met, the Council may remove a member by adoption of a resolution. Before consideration and passage of any such resolution, public notice shall be given and the member informed of the resolution by certified mail.

Shoemaker said Taneytown's recall election portion of the resolution is "pretty innovative."

"It's up to the people of Taneytown to decide if this is the direction they want to go. What's more democratic than that?" he said. "I think a lot of folks ought to emulate that."

Shoemaker said the proposed charter amendment is specific about what conditions should exist.

"That's addressed by this initiative. That's always something you want to be concerned about," Shoemaker said. "You don't want to make it too easy to try to remove from office a person that is duly elected by the people. That's undemocratic. The will of the people shouldn't be thwarted by some kind of technicality."

Shoemaker said the proposed resolution addresses high crimes and dereliction of duty.

"Certainly, egregious ethics violations would warrant such a disposition," Shoemaker said. "If somebody is elected to office and behaves in a way that is counter to the interest of the people and they have the ability to recall the individual, I don't think anybody can complain about that. That's up to the electorate to decide."

John Willis, a University of Baltimore professor of government and public policy, has been teaching for almost four decades. Willis said a recall provision is "not a radical or unusual idea."

"Structurally, they would have been better off separating the recall for the other provisions," Willis said. "A recall is a legitimate way for citizens to keep check on their public officials. If those officials are not acting or doing their job in the way the citizens like, a recall is a mechanism for the public to express their opinion."

Willis said the other removal provisions give him "a little more pause." While he said conviction and felony provisions are not uncommon, the unexcused absence provision leaves room for subjectivity.

"What if some council members get excused and others don't? I could see problems in the implementation of that," Willis said. "It would be interesting to see how it would be implemented. To leave that up to a majority vote could be political. There's room for lack of objectivity."

Willis described the upcoming special election as "fascinating."

"I'm interested to see how the citizens of Taneytown are going to react," Willis said.

Irwin Morris, a University of Maryland, College Park professor of government and politics, has been teaching for 19 years.

Morris said he believes the proposed amendment sets "a higher bar than what members of Congress face."

Under Article I, Section 5, clause 2, of the Constitution, a member of Congress may be removed from office before the normal expiration of his or her constitutional term by an "expulsion" from the Senate or from the House of Representatives upon a formal vote on a resolution agreed to by two-thirds of the members of that body present and voting.

While there are no specific grounds for an expulsion expressed in the Constitution, the Congressional Research Service reports that expulsion actions in both the House and the Senate have generally concerned cases of perceived disloyalty to the United States, or the conviction of a criminal statutory offense that involved abuse of one's official position. As to removal by recall, the United States Constitution does not provide for nor authorize the recall of United States officers and thus no member of Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States.

"One of the things I would tell my students is maybe the federal standard isn't necessarily appropriate in local settings," Morris said. "It's not that you can't remove a member of Congress but it's a lot harder than that."

Morris said he was surprised about the proposed resolution's language.


"It was a little surprising to me that if you miss three meetings, you're out," Morris said. "Obviously there's a possibility for an excused absence but you'd have to get the majority of council to agree to an excuse. There doesn't appear to be any mechanism for that."


Morris also said he was interested to see how many people actually vote during the special election. As of Oct. 28, Taneytown has 4,188 registered voters. During the 2015 council election, 714 people voted — about 17 percent.

"Unless there is an activated constituency, you wouldn't expect a big turnout," Morris said. "I'd guess 10 to 15 percent will turn out. More than that would suggest a mobilized constituency."




If you go

What: City of Taneytown Special Election on charter amendment to allow elected officials to be removed from office.

When: Polls open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15

Where: Taneytown Police Station, 120 E. Baltimore St., Taneytown

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