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Aberdeen council rejects mayor's nominee for vacant seat

Aberdeen council rejects mayor's nominee for vacant seat
Aberdeen City Council members Tim Lindecamp, left, Melvin Taylor, center, and Sandra Landbeck talk after Monday's council meeting. All three rejected Mayor Patrick McGrady's nomination of Sean DeBonis to fill the fourth council seat. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

The three members of Aberdeen's City Council unanimously rejected Mayor Patrick McGrady's nomination of Sean DeBonis to fill the fourth council seat Monday, leaving the final seat vacant until they can agree on someone.

DeBonis, who wasn't at City Hall when the three council members voted down the appointment, said Tuesday evening he was disappointed but prepared for the rejection.

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"I wasn't really surprised, a little disappointed," DeBonis, 31, said. "It almost seems like they had their minds made up before."

McGrady had said earlier this month that he planned to appoint DeBonis to the vacant seat on the four-member council.

Monday, however, the mayor suggested postponing a vote on DeBonis until the Jan. 11, 2016, meeting to give all council members time to talk with the nominee, but Councilman Tim Lindecamp said he wanted to proceed.

"I think we need to start moving on this and make a decision," said Lindecamp, who noted he had previously talked with DeBonis.

The fourth seat has been vacant for nearly seven weeks following the Nov. 3 election, in which DeBonis and incumbent Councilman Stephen Smith tied with 655 votes.

Smith, a former Aberdeen Police deputy chief, was appointed in January to finish the term of Bruce Garner, who died last December.

Lindecamp, Councilman Melvin Taylor and Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck, all who were elected Nov. 3, voted against appointing DeBonis to the council, while McGrady voted for his nominee.

"At our next meeting [Jan. 11], I will make another nomination, and we will proceed until we fill a vacancy," McGrady said.

Council members and the mayor discussed the nomination of DeBonis in the days preceding Monday's meeting but could not agree to approve him.

All three council members said they expressed concerns about DeBonis, a lifelong Aberdeen resident and a pawnbroker with Aberdeen-based J&K Associates, but wouldn't say Monday what those concerns were.

"I certainly don't want to get into specifics, because I don't believe in shaming people," Landbeck said.

"There were many aspects of Sean's background that we looked into, and we found him failing in a number of the areas that we looked at," she said.

Lindecamp suggested the mayor and council speak with Smith, as well, before voting on a nominee and that they have a closed session to discuss all potential candidates.

"This has to be a priority of the city," he said. "You can't keep moving on down the road with this empty seat."

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Taylor said "hopefully, we can have some kind of result."

He stressed later the votes against DeBonis were not personal, but he wants to ensure the proper process is followed.

"I think whatever we do may set precedent for the next time this comes up," Taylor said.

McGrady, who was elected to his first term in November, supported DeBonis, one of nine candidates for the four council seats, as well as two other candidates, Daniel Forte and Jason Kolligs, on what McGrady called the "Fix Aberdeen" slate.

Following the election, a recount of ballots cast on Election Day and the canvass of absentee and provisional ballots, City Manager Doug Miller and City Attorney Fred Sussman determined that the mayor – with the support of three council members – should fill the fourth council seat, as the city charter does not provide method for breaking an election tie. Sussman said the seat should be treated as if it were vacant.

Gina Bantum, chair of the city's Board of Elections, and fellow board member Mark Schlottman urged city officials to hold a special election and allow Aberdeen voters to select their fourth council member.

Landbeck suggested during Monday's meeting that city officials review the charter, "perhaps looking specifically at those sections that deal with elections."

A handful of residents at Monday's meeting urged city leaders to put personal politics aside and approve the best person for the council seat.

Amy Lindecamp, wife of Councilman Lindecamp and daughter of Councilman Garner, reminded city leaders that her late father, a moderate Republican, worked across party lines and always tried to do what was best for the city.

"I beg Mayor McGrady and the rest of the council to always do what is best for the City of Aberdeen and not base their decisions and their actions on accomplishing their own personal agendas or/and personal vendettas," she said.

Mike Hiob, a former city councilman, questioned why council members would need to talk more with Smith, having worked with him for nearly a year.

"I hope that situation comes to resolution some time soon, as early as this evening," he said of filling the vacancy.

Carol Bruce, an unsuccessful candidate in this year's council race, noted city leaders could be facing 90 days without filling the seat, and they should consider "what we look like, sitting here without a full council."

McGrady said after the meeting that he was "disappointed" with the council's decision, but he will keep working with council members to find an appropriate nominee.

"I've heard legitimate concerns from the council," he said. "I hope they will keep an open mind moving forward, and I'm sure they will."

DeBonis said he thinks it should not be up to the council to decide who fills the seat.

"I kind of feel that the only thing we should have is a runoff election to decide, [it's] probably the fairest way to end it," he said.

He also said he the council members never "approached me to really talk about" their concerns.

DeBonis said he is "playing it by ear" before he decides on his next step.

"I think that's unfair to the people of Aberdeen," he said of the current situation. "It's almost like their vote doesn't count."

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