Aberdeen council introduces charter change to allow runoff elections

The Aberdeen City Council introduced a charter amendment Monday to resolve future ties in city elections for mayor and council members.

The amendment would require that a runoff election be held if two or more candidates finish with the same number of votes in the regular election, as Aberdeen officials move to avoid the confusion and drawn-out controversy that followed last November's city election when two council candidates tied for the fourth of four seats.


The amendment further states that the special runoff must be held within 30 days of the city board of elections certifying the result of the regular election. If the runoff results in another tie, another runoff would be held within 30 days for the candidates who remain tied.

Aberdeen city officials are moving closer to adopting a charter amendment providing for a runoff if there are future ties in elections for mayor or city council seats, after a new state law took effect Saturday requiring municipalities to "fill a vacancy that resulted in a tie vote in an election for municipal election within 90 days after the election."

There is also a provision allowing any candidate to decline to participate in a special runoff by notifying the elections board within 48 hours after it sets the date for the runoff. If only one candidate remains, the runoff will not be held and that candidate will be deemed to be elected.

A public hearing on the amendment, which was introduced as a resolution, will be held at City Hall on Oct. 24, beginning at 7 p.m. Once the city council approves the amendment, there is a 50-day period before it takes effect during which voters could petition it to a referendum election.

As a result of last November's controversy, the Maryland General Assembly in its 2016 session passed a law requiring municipalities to "fill a vacancy that resulted in a tie vote in a municipal election within 90 days after the election." The law took effect Oct. 1.

Mayor Patrick McGrady and the four council members have been discussing the tie vote issue for several months. Holding a special runoff, as proposed by the charter amendment, also was a recommended by the three-member city board of elections.

Four bills sponsored by Harford County legislators were signed Tuesday by Gov. Larry Hogan, including a bill that set a time limit for the resolution of municipal election ties, a bill inspired by the City of Aberdeen's five-month stalemate over filling a vacancy on the City Council after two candidates tied in last year's election.

After last November's election, in which incumbent Stephen Smith and newcomer Sean DeBonis finished with identical vote totals, the fourth council seat stayed vacant for five months.

The city attorney ruled the election result had the effect of rendering seat vacant, because the city charter did not have a specific requirement for resolving ties. Based on that ruling, the mayor was advised to appoint someone to the vacant seat, as provided by the charter, subject to the approval of at least two of the remaining three council members.

McGrady twice made appointments, first DeBonis and then Jason Kolligs, both which were defeated unanimously by the council. In April, he appointed Steven Goodin, who had never been a candidate for city office, and the council approved him by a 2-1 vote.


In other actions Monday, the mayor and council awarded a contract for installation of a cover to protect the city-owned swimming pool on Old Robinhood Road when the pool is closed for the season. Clearwater Pool & Spa in Bel Air had the winning bid of $21,680.