Gary J. Hartz registers his four cars in Alaska, votes in Alaska elections and faithfully applies for and receives his annual share of the oil-boom profits distributed to bona fide Alaska residents.
So why is Hartz running for re-election as a town commissioner of the small village of Poolesville in western Montgomery County?
That question has mystified some residents of Poolesville, a bedroom community of about 4,000 residents west of Gaithersburg. Defending his bid for the seat, Hartz says he has done nothing illegal.
"I'm sorry," said Nancy M. McCaffrey, a community activist who has been critical of Hartz. "He cannot run for elected office as a resident of Poolesville and claim residence in Alaska. That's just not right."
Hartz, 41, lived in Alaska for two years in the mid-1970s. He has lived in Poolesville for the past 13 years and was elected to a four-year term on the Town Commission in 1986. Under the town's charter, a commissioner must be a resident and registered voter of Poolesville.
Meanwhile, Hartz has maintained deep ties to Alaska. He and his wife, Janet, have four cars registered there, according to a computer search of Alaska motor vehicle records. They have none registered in Maryland. Despite being registered to vote in Poolesville municipal elections, he is also a registered Alaska voter and he said he regularly votes in state elections there. He said he is not registered to vote in Maryland or in Montgomery County elections. Hartz said he pays no Maryland income tax. Alaska has no income tax.
For the past nine years, Hartz has applied for the annual payment Alaska makes to its citizens, a lucrative byproduct of the state's oil boom. The amount paid each Alaska citizen has ranged from $386 to $1,000 since 1982. Hartz, his wife and their three children have each collected a check since 1982, except for 1988, he said.
For the Nov. 6 election, Hartz is the only incumbent among three candidates vying for two open seats on the five-member Poolesville commission. Commissioners receive no pay but are reimbursed for expenses.
His residency has not been an issue in the campaign, Hartz said. But, some of his critics in the town have raised the question, contacting state officials in Alaska and Maryland about Hartz's residency status.
Hartz said he is discouraged that his critics would raise the issue, especially since the commissioner's job is unpaid.
"It's hard living in a glass house," Hartz said. "Maybe we don't want people to do things for our municipalities."
Hartz said his dual residency is a benefit from his job as an environmental health director in the Public Health Service, a quasi-military agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That job, Hartz said, allows him to maintain a legal domicile in the state of Alaska even though he lives in Maryland. Hartz pointed out that he has been transferred several times by the federal government and hopes to return to Alaska.
Certain special benefits are "accorded to all officers," said Hartz, who carries the rank of captain in the Public Health Service. "That's part of begin transferred all over the country, going places you wouldn't want to live. There wouldn't be laws to provide that if there wasn't some reason for it."
Alaskans serving in the military or going to college out of state, for example, still qualify for the annual oil-bonanza check from what is known as the Permanent Fund Dividend Program, according to Ervin B. Jones, the program director in Alaska.
But, Jones said, service in the Public Health Service is not the same as military service, under the program's rules. Alaskans are not supposed to be able to leave the state to work for the Public Health Service and still qualify for the annual oil-bonanza checks, Jones said. He declined to discuss Hartz's status in the program, citing confidentiality requirements.
Hartz said he, nonetheless, believes he is entitled to the annual checks because of his job status. He added, "Nobody is holding a gun to their heads making them send me the checks."