The day after the Harford County Council appointed three Republicans to the newly-formed redistricting commission, many are still questioning why local Democrats rejected an offer from Council President Billy Boniface that would have allowed a Democrat to be named to the group, in exchange for Democrats backing down from threats of a lawsuit.
After turning down the deal, Democrats watched as the county council appointed Republicans Chris Pate, Jason Gallion, and Ben Lloyd to the commission. Democratic council members Dion Guthrie and Mary Ann Lisanti had nominated Democrats Cathy Riley and Joe Tydings for appointment to the commission.
On Wednesday morning, Wendy Sawyer, chair of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee, explained to The Dagger why the offer was rejected:
The “offer” everyone is making so much fuss about was not a genuine offer made in good faith It was a ploy Billy used last night for his own partisan purposes. Billy Boniface did not have authority to make such an offer, particularly in light of the fact that he kept it from all council members, as well as the fact that the Democratic Central Committee had been involved in numerous correspondences with the Council Administrator, Barbara O’Connor and Charles Kearney, their attorney for two months. The council members first learned of these interactions at last week’s meeting when I spoke to the council about it. That correspondence is attached for your review. IT should give you a good chronological order of events.
I would think the members of the council should have been made aware of Billy’s backroom dealings. The Central Committee chose not to participate in a way we felt was unethical. We are not sorry we didn’t.
I received a call from Dion Guthrie, conveying that Billy wanted to know if the Council appointed a Democrat to the third spot, would the Central Committee provide a letter to the Council guaranteeing we would not seek legal action against the Council. Where did he get the authority to make such an offer, particularly when other council members were unaware? If we had accepted the offer, yes, we would have “a” democrat on the commission.
No promise was made to choose from our list, simply “a democrat”. The deal was dirty and the offer was not going to solve the problem of the Charter being out of date.
This story is about more than fielding candidates. It’s not even about politics, although that is surely how it will play out now. It’s about making sure our county government keeps its Charter in line with reality.
It’s an issue the citizens of this county need to know and should care about. Last night’s council meeting was an abomination as an example of democracy in action. Mr. Slutzky’s comments were out of line and clearly an example of the arrogance with which this council has been operating. He should be called out for his behavior.
The real point here is that when elections changed from at large to in district, it was the County Council’s responsibility to make sure that the Charter was in line with the new type of elections. Three election cycles have gone by since then and this is the first time redistricting has been an issue. The Charter calls for a Charter Review Board, and I fairly certain no such board exists. In fact, Mary Ann Lisanti mentioned at last night’s meeting her desire to put one into place.
Our position is that the words in the Charter may have been constitutional when written, but when applied to the new voting structure the math gets skewed and the Charter provision are unconstitutional. The number of possible votes for council members decreased by almost 80% by going to in district elections. I realize it is a complicated legal argument, and unfortunately for us not one many readers will take the time to understand.
Judges interpret laws, not the public or the newspapers or anyone else. We know what the words on the paper say. But anyone who understands the law even a little bit knows that when looking at a legislative document it is the “intent” that prevails. The intent will be proven at trial – to keep fringe parties from participating. Democrats are not a fringe party in Harford County. The point is that the Charter no longer fits the elections.
We will be asking the Court to review it and make a decision.