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Enough time wasted, Aberdeen needs an election to resolve final council seat [Editorial]

Let us say this one more time to Aberdeen's decision-makers and leaders: Hold another election as soon as possible to fill the final City Council seat.

It's time for the voters to decide whether Sean DeBonis or Stephen Smith will join the council. Smith, an incumbent who was appointed, not elected, to the City Council, and DeBonis, a political novice, tied with 655 votes in the Nov. 3 city election.

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After absentee and provisional ballots were counted, or disqualified, and the votes were recounted, DeBonis and Smith each had 655 votes.

Common sense, and political precedent in other Harford County jurisdictions, dictates there should be a runoff election between the two.

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In Aberdeen, however, Fred Sussman, the city attorney, disagrees. He points out, correctly, that Aberdeen's city charter makes no provision for how to resolve an election tie, and it certainly doesn't call for a special election. Absent such requirements, Sussman has said the fourth seat on the City Council should be treated as a vacancy, which calls for the mayor to appoint someone and the other council members to confirm the appointment.

Aberdeen's three-member election board disagrees with the city attorney's view and has formally asked the mayor and City Council to hold a runoff election.

"I think to do anything other than to have another election for the two individuals that tied, Mr. DeBonis and Mr. Smith, anything else would be less than fair to the citizens of Aberdeen," Mark Schlottman, one of the three election board members, said. "It's a lot of work to put on a campaign, and people came out and voted, and the citizens should have the final say."

We couldn't agree more vigorously.

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Doug Miller, Aberdeen's city manager, doesn't see it that way, either, however. Miller is not only following Sussman's lead, but also taking it a step further and saying that unless the fourth council seat is filled via an appointment, it might be considered invalid and financial institutions might balk at doing business with Aberdeen.

"It's highly important for legal reasons, [such as] if we were to borrow money, that we can prove the council members were properly seated," Miller said.

In the real world, those concerns are rubbish.

Here's an idea: Hold an election between DeBonis and Smith, tally the votes and declare who has the most votes, but don't declare a winner.

At the first Aberdeen City Council meeting after the special election, new Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady will declare the candidate who received the most votes to be his appointment to fill the "vacant" council seat. The three City Council members will unanimously confirm his appointment.

The fourth council seat will be filled and Aberdeen's city attorney and city manager can sleep at night knowing that their all-important legal opinion – and that's all it is, one legal opinion – has been honored.

And the people of Aberdeen can be happy democracy was served, even if their candidate wasn't elected, in the face of an un-democratic proposal to seat the final council member.

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