After reading the Dec. 7 Aegis article about Jacob Bennett’s exclusion from the official inauguration ceremony (”Democrat Jacob Bennett excluded from Harford County inauguration”), I suspect that his exclusion was more a case of post-election sour grapes rather than concerns about adhering to the words of the County Charter or interpreting those words mistakenly.
Surely, County Executive Cassilly and Council President Vincenti were aware that Jacob Bennett was a teacher. There was ample time between the primary and general election to meet with Mr. Bennett and his attorney to determine the legality of Mr. Bennett’s ability to remain as a Harford County Public Schools teacher if he defeated incumbent Curtis Beulah for the council seat in District F. Perhaps Cassilly and Vincenti strongly believed that Beulah was a shoo-in and they would not have to bother bringing up their concerns.
Then in the Dec. 9 Aegis article about Bennett’s seat remaining in dispute (”Harford County Council holds first meeting with new body Tuesday as Jacob Bennett’s position remains in dispute”), I learned that Beulah received campaign donations from both Cassilly and Vincenti.
Making donations to support the incumbent council member, and then trying to oust his replacement when the incumbent loses, sends the wrong message to voters and certainly seems to indicate there could be a political motivation. It also helps to further erode citizens’ trust in the Harford County Council.
I also learned in the Dec. 9 article that the Maryland State Education Association’s attorney, Kristy Anderson, and HCPS’s attorney, Kimberly Neal, agreed there was no conflict of interest preventing a county teacher from serving on the County Council. I learned that HCPS employees are neither employees of the state nor county. Teacher salaries are not determined by the County Council since they are negotiated between the teachers’ union and the Harford County Board of Education.
If the county executive and County Council president believed there could be some sort of conflict of interest if Bennett had to vote on an issue pertaining to the Harford Board of Education, they could have perhaps just suggested that Bennett recuse himself from that vote. Instead, there seems to have been a mistaken interpretation that Harford County teachers are Harford County government employees rather than Harford County Board of Education employees.
The Dec. 14 Aegis article, “Harford County files suit against County Council member Jacob Bennett,” states that the county attorney is persisting with the suit despite Bennett not “being employed by the State of Maryland or by Harford County or by any municipality within Harford County,” and despite Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties having county charters similar to Harford’s, and the teachers in those counties have not encountered any problems when elected to serve in local government positions.
The suit seems to show that Harford County is determined to disenfranchise the citizens of District F who chose Bennett to represent them. The county attorney is claiming that the Board of Education is part of the state government. Bennett’s attorney is asserting that HCPS is a separate legal entity from either the state or county government.
This [is an] ongoing attempt to deny Jacob Bennett his duly elected position as the county councilman from District F. No such concerns were mentioned or pursued with a suit by the county when Richard Slutsky, a coach at Aberdeen High School, was elected as a county councilman. Of course, he was a Republican. It seems party affiliation must matter.
The Dec. 16 Aegis article, “Harford County Council receives pushback after citizens are prevented from speaking about District F during meeting,” mentioned how the citizens of Harford County were denied their right to question the suit by the County Council at a meeting supposedly because of the Feb. 15, 2020, change to the council’s rules of procedure. I believe we have been denied free speech by the County Council for longer than that.
I recall being at County Council meetings prior to that date where I and a roomful of citizens were not allowed to speak in protest of matters pertaining to the Abingdon Business Park and the destruction of Abingdon Woods. At other meetings, citizens have also been denied the right to speak in protest of the Perryman Peninsula project.
The Dec. 21 Aegis article, “Harford County withholds Jacob Bennett’s council paycheck amid lawsuit,” revealed that Harford County has escalated the persecution of Jacob Bennett by withholding his pay. I sincerely hope and pray that since he is not an employee of the county, that justice prevails and the attempt to remove him from office and disenfranchise the voters in District F is denied. I further hope and pray that Bennett receives his full pay with interest, and that he is also provided with punitive damages.
MaryLee A. Stritch
Issue regarding Jacob Bennett’s eligibility to serve on County Council is ‘pretty straightforward’
I may be a little perplexed but the issue with council member (maybe) Jacob Bennett and the county seems pretty straightforward.
I understand that being a council member is a part-time gig and councilmember (maybe) Bennett could certainly do his full-time job and be on the council at the same time. But rules are rules. The County Charter says you cannot hold two positions within the county at the same time.
If you want to play the game, well then, play the game. You cannot show up to a lacrosse game dressed for football and expect to play football, when the rules say it’s lacrosse you are playing.
That is a bit simplistic but perhaps by setting an example and following the rules, Mr. Bennett could demonstrate he is exactly the type of citizen we need on the council or in his teaching position.