Out of respect, local politicos have thus far refused to discuss the issue, but it’s a burning question which will have to be answered within the next two months – how do you replace the 15 years of experience the Harford County Council lost this week with the death of councilwoman Veronica “Roni” Chenowith?
Since 1994, Mrs. Chenowith sat behind the dais, representing District B and the people of Fallston, Upper Crossroads and Emmorton. So dominant was Mrs. Chenowith’s reign, that after her initial election to the council, she faced no opposition from within her own party in her three subsequent Primary Elections.
Her health had been failing recently, but even so, Mrs. Chenowith’s death leaves a shocking and deep void on the County Council, which, after memorializing her, must pick her replacement.
The Council has sixty days from the vacancy of a seat to make an appointment. Since the seat was left open by a Republican, the Republican Central Committee of Harford County will send a list of 3 names, from which the County Council will pick a nominee. That means the Republican Central Committe will hold interviews, similar to what it did for Barry Glassman’s District 35A delegation seat when he assumed the senate seat after Sen. Bob Hooper’s death.
For Council District B the Central Committee will have to recommend 3 people. Often in these situations, 2 stooges are put up, so that they can be nominated along with the person who is really selected. The 2 people are individuals who don’t want the spot and would turn it down if the Council chose them, or people no one would actually choose. The second method can be dangerous, as you never can really know someone won’t be selected. It is rumored that this problem occured recently when the county sent a 3-name list to the delegation for liquor board appointment, and the “wrong” citizen was chosen.
Since the Council is mostly Republican, it might be expected that it should be on the same page as the Republican Central Committee and choose the one person marked from the three. In Harford, none of the council members have strong relationships or owe tribute to the Republican Central Committee, and so it is likely that the names will all be in consideration and no “preordained” citizen will be a lock through both bodies.
Chad Shrodes, who is on the Council and the Central Committee, provides the interesting situation of being able to participate in both selection committees, and being able to communicate the thoughts of each directly. It is rare that one citizen gets to be so involved in the selection of a leader, and a future co-worker.
If the Republican Central Committee takes its vote in executive session, as occured for the last appointment, Shrodes would technically be prevented from telling the Council which nominee had the most votes from the Central Committee.
The interesting language from the county Charter, below, oddly does not give the Central Committee a deadline to submit names to the Council. If the Council and County Executive were of different parties, a Central Committee could theoretically withhold its nominations until 60 days had elapsed, forcing the County Executive to make the selection. As it is, the Republican Central Committee will have to act quickly to give the Council time advertise the vote and to deliberate according to Council rules.
From the Harford County Charter:
A vacancy in the Council shall exist upon the death or resignation of a Council Member, or upon forfeiture of office by a Council Member. When a vacancy occurs, a majority of the remaining members of the Council shall, within sixty (60) calendar days thereafter, appoint a person to fill the vacancy. If an appointee is to succeed a member of a political party, that individual shall be selected from a list of at least three (3) names submitted to the Council by the Central Committee of the party to which the former Council Member belonged. If the Council has not acted within sixty (60) calendar days, the County Executive shall appoint a person to fill the vacancy within ten (10) calendar days thereafter. If the Council Member who held the vacant position was a member of a political party at the time of election, the person appointed by the County Executive to fill the vacancy shall be selected from the same list that the Central Committee of that party has previously submitted to the Council. Except as provided in Subsection (b) of this section, an appointee shall serve for the unexpired term of the appointee’s predecessor. Any person appointed to fill a vacancy shall meet the same qualifications and residence requirements as the previous Council Member.
Republican Central Committee member Mike Geppi said Thursday the group would not even think about the replacement of Mrs. Chenowith until after her funeral and services.
“Chairman Kim Wagner and I are in agreement that we will not even consider the county council vacancy until Councilwoman Chenowith has been laid to rest. Out of respect to a former colleague and friend, we are discouraging any talk of her replacement until the appropriate time,” he said.
Geppi said the process for selecting nominees for the vacancy will be announced after Mrs. Chenowith has been laid to rest.
“Unfortunately, this central committee now has quite a bit of experience in filling vacancies,” he added.
“The vacancy on the council will be treated with the utmost respect.”
Geppi served with Mrs. Chenowith on the Council from 1998 to 2002 and sat beside her at the dais.
“I also want to say how much of a loss Roni’s passing is for this county. She was a great teacher to me and a mentor when we served on the council together. She had a way of getting right to the heart of an issue. We always knew where she stood,” he said.
“If anyone was ever unclear of Roni’s position, her cane was able to help drive the point home. To have Roni and Joanne Parrott pass so closely is just so heart wrenching.”