Video(s): 45th District State Central Committee 'Gone Wild'
Following possibly the most controversial, chaotic and incompetent appointment process in state history, members of the 45th district got some refreshing news when the state's Attorney General's Office returned an opinion upholding the process that took place Friday night in East Baltimore.
Validating their choice of Nina Harper to fill the vacancy in the House of Delegates due to the unfortunate death of Delegate Hattie Harrison, community members are still questioning the process that caused confusion and witnessed members voting for Harrison's replacement via secret ballot – and having at least one member double vote, twice.
Calling upon the state's official attorney, AG Doug Gansler's Office, for an official opinion regarding questions that arose during the appointment process; the AG's Office responded to this Examiner's request with previous opinions that set the precedent in cases like this. Issuing three separate advise letters that range from 2003 to 2012, most of the questions community members raised during the meeting, and in the days following, seem to give the state's Democratic Party the sole responsibility in controlling the process of appointment.
In an October 16, 2007 opinion, in response to an inquiry from former Montgomery County Delegate Saqib Ali in reference to whether or not 'secret ballots' were legal in such a process controlled by the people; Assistant Attorney General Sandra Benson Brantley stated that “in her opinion, there is no basis under the law to challenge the use of a secret ballot”. She went on to further explain the reasons behind her conclusion, by stating the following:
'The fact is that nothing in state or federal law prohibits a Central Committee from using a secret ballot; and whether the central committee feels it should use an open roll call for future nomination votes is a matter for the Maryland Democratic Party to decide.'
However, as apparent by this decision, this isn't the first time that the people have taken issue with the party's process of secret balloting for their selection of the person nominated to fill a vacancy. In fact, while Delegate Ali raised this issue in 2007 regarding Montgomery County's central committee process, this issue was raised 15-years prior to that in Prince George's County; when a group of PG County residents brought suit seeking to enjoin the Governor from appointing a person to a vacancy in the House on the grounds that the local central committee made its nomination selection at a closed meeting.
When the Governor eventually made the appointment, the issue became moot; yet, the plaintiffs sought action for 'future appointments', that the central committee couldn't vote in secret - which the state's Court of Special Appeals declined. Noting that 'these kinds of disputes are quintessentially political in nature', the court decided that 'some deference ought to be given to the political process and the Party's construction and enforcement of their Constitution and By-Laws that principally govern that process'. (Neimann v Schaefer, Case #435 Order dated, January 14, 1992)
Yet, while this may shine some clarity regarding the secret balloting, other members also raised the question regarding how multiple members of the 45th district state central committee, themselves running for the vacant seat, could sit in on the interview process of the other candidates who were essentially their opponents – and how they could vote for themselves? In previous opinions issued by the Maryland AG's Office, these questions would essentially fall under the precedent set by three separate legal opinions offered between 1938 and 2003.
The first states that Central Committee matters are not covered by state or federal law, but rather are governed by the political party's own constitution and by-laws. 23 Op. Att'y Gen. 208 (1938) states that 'where the State law at the time did not address the required number of members on a state central committee, the question was left up to party rules and regulations'.
In 1993, Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch offered an advise letter to House Speaker Clayton Mitchell Jr. stating that 'because no state law clearly prevents the local central committees [or their members] from voting, or from using secret ballots, to fill vacancies in the General Assembly, it remains unclear to what extent a court could or would enforce such an obligation'...even though he states that the party rules clearly establish a roll call vote requirement.
“So based on Democratic Party by-laws, they clearly have a 'roll call' vote option; however, they seem to only allow for its usage when its convenient and beneficial for their chosen nominee,” questioned independent political analyst, Shaun Louis.
“They made a mockery of the system last week, and while Ms. Harper has undoubtedly been a leader in East Baltimore for decades, the mere allegations that Ms. Donna Martin made during the hearing that the fix was in, in and of itself, should make party officials take pause and come up with an alternative way of doing things when it comes to vacancy appointments – and even examining the elimination of having elected officials serving dual roles on the central committee as well?”
Others raised the issue of Robert's Rules of Order and the lack of compliance this group showed regarding the Open Meetings Act of Maryland, which calls for such a roll call vote that would force each member to identify how they voted; yet, another AG opinion speaks to that issue as well.
In a 2003 Open Meeting Compliance Board opinion No. 03-6, it held that 'the act does not apply to central committees, deciding that the Republican State Central Committee for Queen Anne's County, is not a “public body” under the statute, thus not within the scope of the Open Meetings Act'. The Compliance Board reasoned that although the State's Election Law regulates Party Central Committees to some extent, these committees are not created by state statute, but are created by the political parties themselves.
However, several onlookers and district residents are still fuming over the process, especially that of at least one member double voting on a single candidate ballot, twice. Having opened the voting process up with clear instructions by the city's central committee chairman Scherod Barnes, that stated to circle only one name of the nine candidates present on the ballot; one of the seven elected members of the central committee apparently couldn't follow those simple instructions.
“I'm a certified teacher of elementary school children, and even they can follow instructions that simple, after being told only once,” said one irate district resident, seen in both Part II and Part III of the video attached to this article.
“We hold our children to a certain standard, and grown adults should not be exempt of such expectations. None of yal will ever get my vote again, don't come knocking on my door or asking me for your vote or for money! You have made a mockery of this process and as a 35-year old resident, who you ask to be active in my neighborhood; why would I want to be involved and active in anything with this amount of foolishness?”
And while Ms. Nina Harper is set to become the next Delegate of the 45th District in the coming days, as the city central committee is set to approve her nomination tonight during an unnecessary procedural vote, followed by her appointment by Governor Martin O'Malley; the apparent flawed process that witnessed Chairman Barnes and City Council President Bernard 'Jack' Young take to social media and radio programs - such as the Darren Muhammad show, 'State of the City' - defending it as politics as usual, should have party officials take pause and rethink the process they have in place.
Clearly it wasn't the politics the people are accustom too, and while consummate politicians like President Young seem unfazed and comfortable with such backdoor dealings; it shouldn't be a process that party officials, who tout a fair and balanced system, should be comfortable in adhering to?
If our elected and appointed officials don't want more for our people, who will? We can do better, but for now, we should offer our sincere congratulations and dedicated passion to assisting soon-to-be Delegate Nina Harper and the three other district representatives, for the betterment of the citizens of the 45th District and Baltimore City as a whole!
State Central Committee Appointment Hearing – Pt 1: Questions arise as to the process before the vote
State Central Committee Appointment Hearing – Pt. 2: Double Voting on 1st Ballot sets people off
State Central Committee Appointment Hearing – Pt. 3: 2nd Ballot again sees a double voted ballot & chaos, as one local resident accuses a Delegate of informing her of the fix last year, and the Delegate passionately defends herself.
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