Columbia Council Chairman John M. Hansen resigned last night, saying he couldn't serve the remaining year of his term because he objected on moral grounds to the results of a controversial Long Reach village council election.
A challenger in Long Reach won the popular vote, but lost the election when two "bloc" ballots totaling 276 votes were cast for his incumbent opponent.
"The events in Long Reach were wrong, and I felt most people in the room [council members] realized that," said Mr. Hansen. "Given the nature of what happened, I felt I couldn't make a
commitment and that the proper thing to do was to resign as chairman and as a member from Harper's Choice [village]."
Mr. Hansen announced his decision to the 10-member council at the outset of last night's meeting, which was the first for the newly elected council.
The purpose of the meeting was to select a council chairman and vice chairman for the next year.
Mr. Hansen addressed the council for about 10 minutes, then left. The council then selected Karen A. Kuecker of Owen Brown village, who had been vice chairwoman, as chairwoman. Fran Wishnick of Oakland Mills village was approved as vice chairwoman.
Mr. Hansen, who also cited personal reasons for resigning, has served on the council for four years. Harper's Choice either may appoint a replacement to the council, or may hold a special election.
In the April 24 Long Reach election, challenger Roy T. Lyons won the popular vote, but lost the election, 386 to 157, to incumbent Gail Bailey, who received two ballots totaling 276 votes. The multiple-vote ballots were cast by owners of two apartment complexes.
The Long Reach village board said the election was conducted "in accordance with long-standing practice." Village covenants entitle property owners to one vote for each dwelling unit or vacant lot owned, but interpretations vary as to whether that permits apartment building owners to cast votes for all units.
Mr. Lyons has challenged the election, and the village's election committee is seeking legal advice.
Mr. Hansen said, "The issue was Gail Bailey was there tonight voting on a new chairman. I couldn't in good conscience serve on the council if Gail Bailey was seated."
Mr. Hansen "is a very moral person," said Ms. Kuecker.
Ms. Bailey said Mr. Hansen's resignation surprised her. "I don't really have any opinion," she said.
She contends that she won the election according to the rules and that an effort has been mounted by some council members and others to oust her.
After Mr. Hansen left the meeting, the council discussed whether members should urge him to reconsider. Later, Mr. Hansen said he was "at ease" with his decision and wouldn't reconsider.
Council member David Berson of River Hill village said the council lost "a strong advocate for Columbia."
"I'm sorry John resigned," he said. "Whether he would have ended up chairman this year, I don't know. But the council is worse for him not being here."
Newly elected council member Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge village said he had also considered resigning because of the Long Reach election outcome. "Someone was elected but not by the reasonable expectation of someone who lives in Columbia," he said.
Mr. Hansen is the second council member to resign within the last seven months. Joseph Merke of Town Center resigned last fall.