Harford County held its official inauguration ceremony for elected officials Monday at APGFCU Arena in Bel Air, but one newly elected council member was excluded.
Jacob Bennett, elected in the November general election to council District F, was not invited to the inauguration, according to Sam Kahl, spokesperson for Bob Cassilly, who was sworn into office as county executive at the inauguration. Bennett’s name was not on the list of new County Council members in the program booklet.
“Invitations to the inauguration of the Harford County executive and swearing-in of County Council members were sent to those individuals who are qualified to be sworn in and take their seats as members of the Harford County Council,” Kahl said in a statement after the inauguration. “Mr. Jacob Bennett, who was elected to serve as the District F representative on the Council, was not invited to participate in that ceremony.”
Bennett, 27, will be one of two Democrats on County Council, along with Dion Guthrie from District A. At issue is Bennett’s employment as a teacher in Harford County Public Schools.
“The Harford County Charter plainly states that a person who holds other employment for the state or county is not qualified to take a seat on the County Council,” Kahl said. “Mr. Bennett, who is currently employed as a Harford County Public School teacher, has stated that he intends to remain under employment with the Harford County Board of Education while also serving on the County Council.
“County Executive Cassilly was not going to literally offer a stage to someone who wants to participate in a public violation of our charter on a day that celebrates the lawful transfer of power under that very charter. If Mr. Bennett had chosen to resign his employment with Harford County Public Schools, as others before him have done, he would have been welcomed to participate in the ceremony.”
Bennett was sworn in later in the day at a private ceremony at the Harford County courthouse. However, he said he has not received a welcome packet or any information about his role, including where his office is or the agenda for Tuesday’s legislative session.
“I have every right to hold office as a school teacher,” Bennett said.
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Bennett said he received legal counsel two years ago, before entering the race, about his job specifically and was told by his lawyer that it is not a violation of the charter nor a conflict of interest.
The portion of the county charter in question says that a “Council member shall not hold any other office of profit or employment in the government of the State of Maryland, Harford County, or any municipality within Harford County.”
“The Harford County Board of Education receives more than half of the Harford County operating budget of over a billion dollars,” Kahl said. “Mr. Bennett cannot be relied upon by our citizens to provide effective oversight of the county’s budget when his employer is the recipient of the major portion of that budget.
“He had a duty to inform the voters before the election, not afterward, that he intended to ignore the County Charter and the voters had every reason to believe that their elected councilman would obey the charter, resign his teaching position, and be in a position to provide effective oversight of the county budget.”
However, Bennett clearly stated during campaigning that he was a teacher in the county school system. Neither Cassilly, a Republican, nor any other candidate brought up a concern publicly about Bennett’s job before Monday, and the issue was not mentioned by Cassilly or any council member during the ceremonies.
Bennett is determined to fight for his council seat.
“This is not the end of something, but the beginning,” he said.