Md. town official gets dividends as Alaskan resident


Can a legal resident of Alaska be an elected official in Maryland?

Well, it happened in Poolesville, a town of 3,735 in western Montgomery County.

Not only is Poolesville Commissioner Gary Hartz an Alaska resident, but he and his family have received thousands of dollars in dividends from Alaska's oil money fund since 1982.

However, Mr. Hartz, 41, has lived in Poolesville since 1976, and he has served on the unpaid town commission since 1986. He is running for re-election this fall.

As an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, Mr. Hartz says he, like military personnel, has the right to maintain his legal domicile elsewhere while stationed in Maryland.

And Poolesville officials say the town charter leaves no question that Mr. Hartz is eligible to hold office there.

But whether Mr. Hartz, a division chief with the Indian Health Service who lived in Alaska from 1974 to 1976, his wife and three children should receive Alaska dividends is in doubt.

Some Alaskans, such as members of the armed forces, may receive dividends while living elsewhere, said Ervin B. Jones, director of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend division. Every qualifying Alaskan, including children, will receive a check this year for $952.63, he said.

While saying he couldn't comment on individual cases, Mr. Jones said the fund did not consider Public Health Service officers to be exempt from normal residency requirements.

"If the department determines we paid somebody by mistake, we will request that the money be returned," he said.

A typical Alaskan family of four enrolled in the program since 1982 has received $20,344 in dividends. Mr. Hartz said he did not know how much his family of five had gotten.

Mr. Hartz said Alaskan officials had reviewed his family's dividends before, and "it's always been sustained." The family's 1988 dividends are now under review, he said. The Hartz's 1990 application did not include his oldest daughter, now 19 and a registered Maryland voter.

"I'm willing to accept whatever they come up with," Mr. Hartz said.

Nancy M. McCaffrey, a Poolesville resident who has pushed for increased openness in town affairs, raised the issue of Mr. Hartz's residency in an Oct. 15 letter to Mr. Jones.

"How can he be a resident of one state and hold elected office in another? That doesn't seem quite kosher," she said yesterday.

Mr. Hartz said he was being "crucified" for doing volunteer work to better Poolesville. He is the commission's finance officer and oversees the town's $1.5 million annual budget.

"This is intended to totally discredit me," he said.

Richard S. McKernon, Poolesville's attorney, said that under the town's charter, a candidate for commissioner must be at least 21 years old, must have lived continuously for at least six months in Poolesville and must be a registered voter in the town.

Although Mr. Hartz does not legally reside in Maryland, pay state income taxes, register his vehicles here or vote in county or state elections, he does vote in Poolesville, which maintains a town voter list separate from Montgomery County's.

"All our charter requires is physical presence to be a registered voter," Mr. McKernon said.

Elizabeth L. Nilson, an assistant attorney general who is counsel to the state elections board, said that no elected state or county official could be a registered voter in another state but that "this problem is unique to the municipality."

"Ordinarily, residence with respect to voter registration means domicile, not just physical presence," she said. "If somebody wanted to challenge his residency within the town of Poolesville, it would make an interesting question."

Art Potts, who is vying with Mr. Hartz and another candidate for two seats on the town commission, said Mr. Hartz's residency situation "doesn't make a lot of good sense to me, but until somebody says for sure that's illegal, I wouldn't make an issue of it."

Charles W. Elgin Sr., president of the Poolesville commission, defended Mr. Hartz.

"It's a non-issue, just a dirty political gimmick," Mr. Elgin said. "We don't run a town government in the newspaper. We run it with dedicated people. I'm 100 percent behind him. With a man of that caliber, the town is very fortunate to have him."

"The town charter calls for a commissioner to be a resident of the town of Poolesville. It does not say he must be a resident of the state of Maryland," he said.

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