Dissension in the ranks has led to all out mutiny among members of the Harford County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, who, within two weeks, re-elected and then booted the chair and vice chair of the county delegation.
An apparent leadership vacuum created by Del. Susan McComas’ reportedly ineffectual role as chairman of the Harford delegation and a verbal tirade unleashed by her vice chair, Del. Rick Impallaria, led to their emergency removal from those roles on Monday.
In a nutshell, pun possibly intended, here’s how we arrived at this moment:
McComas is by all accounts a fine delegate and a much-liked person. I’ve heard the words “good person” used to describe her. But since she assumed chair of the delegation, it has become evident she does not posses the leadership qualities necessary to organize, balance and keep under control a group of 7 other political egos.
Over time, McComas has done a few things that has gotten under the skin of other delegates or left them scratching their heads. These are reportedly very minor things – changing the locks on delegates’ office doors without telling them, moving a frequently-used mirror from the delegation office, showing mild disrespect to the other delegates’ administrative assistants.
On their own, each of these offenses can be considered petty, but when considered as a whole – and viewed as portending bigger problems yet to come – they seemed suddenly not so trivial to her fellow delegates.
During an early session delegation meeting, the Harford officials went into executive session and confronted McComas about these things. After she promised to be more mindful and directly address the issues, McComas was re-elected as delegation chair.
It quickly became evident to most members of the delegation that McComas had not changed her ways. In some cases she might have even made the situation worse. The delegation began questioning if it made the right choice in picking her to lead them again.
Then, just last Friday, the brewing delegation turmoil exploded in spectacular fashion during a very public altercation between Impallaria and Del. Donna Stifler. For whatever reason, the two delegates began arguing in the Cloak Room with a few other people around. Emotions and voices rose until Impallaria let loose with a verbal tirade on par with some of famously-profane comedian George Carlin’s greatest work, according to witnesses. Although, it should be said, Impallaria has offered a much more PG-version of his alleged comments. [Yes, I know what he’s supposed to have said. No, I don’t think I’ll repeat it. Maybe Impallaria will show up here and give you all a little preview.]
So Impallaria cussed up a storm in front of a lot of people. Eventually, police arrived to investigate what they had been told was an assault in the House of Delegates.
With the McComas chair already in question and her vice chair Impallaria apparently drawing a visit by law enforcement, several delegates decided it was time to take care of the matter once and for all.
At the close of session on Monday evening, Del. J.B. Jennings announced that a special delegation session was being called. McComas, Impallaria and Del. Pat McDonough didn’t show. And Jennings and Del. Wayne Norman were tapped to replace them unanimously by the rest of the delegation.
By Tuesday, machinations were already underway to undo or invalidate the delegation vote to replace McComas and Impallaria. There were cries that Roberts Rules of Order was not followed and an Attorney General’s Office decision was requested.
On Wednesday, The Dagger obtained a copy of a letter from the Attorney General’s Office dated Monday, February 2, 2009.
According to the letter, it was written in response to an inquiry from Del. Mary-Dulany James asking “whether a member of the Delegation could call a meeting of the Delegation by announcing it on the floor of the House.”, whether such a meeting would comport with the Open Meetings Act and “whether a member of the Delegation may call for a vote on an issue if both the Chairman and Co-Chairman are absent, or decline to call for a vote.”
The timing of the letter is curious, since Jennings called the special meeting at the end of session at approximately 8 p.m. on February 2 and this letter is obviously in response to a previous inquiry by James.
It calls into question the published reports about Jennings saying he called the meeting to mend fences between Impallaria and Stifler. How can you mend fences with the Co-Chair if you are anticipating his absence? And if you’re not expecting him to be absent, why bother the AG with a question about it?
But if removal really was the intent, the absence of the Chair and Co-Chair comes in handy. That’s because Roberts Rules of Order requires a 2/3 majority vote – a standard the delegation could not meet during its regular Friday delegation meetings with McComas, Impallaria and McDonough all in attendance. Hence the possible urgency to meet on Monday night, rather than wait 4 days until Friday.
Reacting to the inquiry from James to the Attorney Generals office, Impallaria said today:
“Mary-Dulany James’ end game is to get it so chaotic that she and [Del. Dan] Riley will be appointed…Now we know the members of the ‘James gang’: [JB Jennings, Wayne Norman and Donna Stifler]. They are aiding and abetting Mary-Dulany James to try to shake off the mess she’s made on the elected school board to put in place the weakest of the six Republicans elected from Harford County. On the Democratic side, this is ingenious. For the Republicans, it’s a sad day for Harford County Republicans.”
Also today, Impallaria said he contacted the Speaker’s office and had a meeting between himself, Stifler’s aide and Barbara Oakes who is in charge of staff in the Lowe building. He said he had been accused of “abusing and mistreating” Donna Stifler’s aide, although Stifler did not provide specifics, and it escalated.
He said during the altercation he called Stifler a “friggin’ kook” and not the vulgar names Stifler alleges. According to Impallaria, the meeting with the Speaker’s office ended with the conclusion that no abuse of the aide occurred.
Yet, oddly enough, Alexandra Hughes, Communications/Policy Advisor for the Speaker’s Legislative Office, said Wednesday afternoon, “To my knowledge, [Del. Michael Busch] has not met with the Harford County delegation.”
Now, without further ado, the horses’ mouths:
McDonough’s explanations for the overthrow of McComas and Impallaria fall into two broad categories:
– It’s a plot with a quid pro quo: The change in leadership gave the balance of power to the Democrats because Jennings, Stifler and Norman had to give the two Democrats on the delegation (James and Del. Dan Riley) something in return for their vote against McComas and Impallaria. McDonough said three “needed two Democrats to complete their plot. I hope it wasn’t the elected school board.”
McDonough added that the complaints about Susan are a “smokescreen for their ambitions”.
– It’s all Donna: He said Stifler has petty complaints. “Donna Stifler lacks maturity… causes unnecessary trouble…disrupts things. It’s her personality.” He said the removal of McComas was an “insult to women” adding that he believed McComas was the only female delegation chair and she was ousted “without real cause” “Donna Stifler threw her sister under the bus.”
Impallaria’s explanations are about the ambitions of his fellow delegates:
“The goal was to destroy the Harford County delegation and get titles for themselves.” He said there is “no upside for the citizens in Harford County.”
Impallaria said he offered the job of vice chair to Jennings before the vote that installed McComas and himself a few weeks ago. Impallaria said Jennings turned him down saying he did not need the title. After Monday’s vote that put Jennings in as chair, Impallaria confronted Jennings in the hallway and said Jennings couldn’t look him in the face.
Impallaria said, “I couldn’t look me in the face either after” what Jennings had done. Impallaria said he complained to Jennings about the lack of advance notice of the special meeting, saying he and the other delegates were blindsided. Impallaria said there are two sides on the issue, the side that supports the rules and the side that supports no rules. “What side is the public normally going to fall on?”
He says if there are no rules the delegation can vote on a new chair every meeting. “The first time Donna (Stifler) gets mad at Wayne (Norman), it flips the vote and we can vote again.”
Where next? Sources say Jennings has invited the delegates to a private dinner to try to get everyone to come together.
We wish him luck.