Bloc ballots criticized by chairman Losing candidate files challenge

April 28, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The chairman of the Columbia Council yesterday blasted the use of bloc ballots that apparently decided a Long Reach council election, calling the practice an "astonishing breach of ethical behavior."

Chairman John Hansen criticized the apartment owners who reportedly cast the ballots and incumbent Councilwoman Gail M. Bailey for accepting them.

Ms. Bailey's opponent, Roy T. Lyons, filed a challenge with the village election committee Monday, charging that the election Saturday was "stolen" through two bloc ballots, accounting for 276 votes, cast by the owners of Longwood and Ashton Meadow apartments.

"If Gail Bailey is seated on the Columbia Council," Mr. Hansen said, "she will be the representative of the owners of Ashton Meadow and Longwood. Nothing less, but certainly nothing more."

Ms. Bailey said she had done nothing wrong, had followed the village's election rules and had not even asked for the apartment bloc votes, in which the owners cast a ballot for each apartment.

"There was no cheating. There was no loading the ballot box," she said. "You don't impose another system afterward if you don't like the person who won. I don't think John [Hansen] would be upset if Roy [Lyons] had won."

Mr. Hansen and other council members met in a closed-door session Monday night to discuss the legal implications of the Long Reach election challenge. Mr. Hansen said he could not talk about the meeting.

He said that the council, which must formally confirm the election of its members, was obligated to seat whoever is certified the winner by the village association.

The Long Reach village election committee has named Ms. Bailey the winner, citing a long-standing practice of allowing apartment building owners to cast bloc votes. The committee is seeking legal advice before deciding how to react to Mr. Lyons' challenge, said Phil Blustein, co-chairman of the Long Reach election committee.

Ms. Bailey said Mr. Hansen's remarks amount to a personal attack. "I don't see how I'm at fault for following the rules. I think John's problem is that he just doesn't like me, Ms. Bailey said. "I think this is a personal vendetta on his part."

Ms. Bailey insisted that Mr. Lyons' candidacy had been organized by people outside Long Reach who supported building a controversial $5.2 million public golf course at Fairway Hills, north of the Village of Harper's Choice. The council approved money for the course when it adopted the city's 1994 capital budget on March 1.

"I think the people of Long Reach were duped just because this was not revealed," said Ms. Bailey, who opposed building the golf course.

Golf course backers, such as Donald Dunn, a western Ellicott City resident and president of the Howard County Golf Association, and Councilwoman Evelyn Richardson, who represents Dorsey's Search, visited the Long Reach polling place on election day, Ms. Bailey said.

"They had meetings to plan Roy's candidacy for him, but they didn't know the rules. They didn't know about bloc votes," she said. "They thought they had it tied up, but they weren't from Long Reach and they didn't know the rules."

Mr. Lyons could not be reached for comment, but Ms. Richardson said she had not helped him organize his campaign.

"I visited five different polling places on election day . . . just to see what was going on, so that's really a little bit silly," Ms. Richardson said.

Furthermore, Ms. Richardson said, there was nothing wrong with

anyone from outside the Long Reach supporting a village candidacy. "Gail might take a look in the dictionary and see what the democratic system is all about.

"I hope that Gail will be gracious enough, frankly, to let the people and not two apartment owners decide the election. I hope she will be gracious enough to step down."

The Lyons challenge has focused attention on Columbia's unusual form of political representation. The unincorporated city of 75,000 has 10 village associations, each run by a board of directors.

The nonprofit Columbia Associa tion administers the recreational facilities and community programs under the direction of the elected 10-member Columbia Council.

In eight of Columbia's villages, including Long Reach, voting is based on property ownership -- similar to the way many homeowners' associations operate -- but a vote per household is allowed for renters. In Long Reach, apartment complex owners can cast votes for each of their units, unless renters vote first.

In Kings Contrivance and River Hill, all adult residents are eligible to vote.

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