Lyons' victory in Long Reach upheld Court rejects Bailey's protest

September 17, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

A Howard County Circuit Court judge upheld yesterday Roy T. Lyons' June 5 victory in a repeat Long Reach village election, ruling that former Columbia Councilwoman Gail Bailey's arguments for validating a disputed April 24 election were "unpersuasive."

"The case of Gail Bailey vs. the Planet Earth will probably be in the Supreme Court in a couple years," said Mr. Lyons, who has served on the 10-member Columbia Council since the special June 5 election, about a possible appeal. "I hope it's over. It could become expensive for a nonpaying job."

Dr. Bailey said she was disappointed at the ruling and that she hasn't decided whether to appeal.

"I think everything was done right in the first election and the village had no right to overturn it. I think the judge made the wrong decision," said Dr. Bailey, who argued that she won according to long-established procedures for elections in the east Columbia village.

The ruling also provides clarification of voting rules that could guide future elections in the eight Columbia villages that base voting rights on property ownership. Those villages have varying interpretations of voting rights rules, even though their covenants are nearly identical.

"We've got a platform now," said Kathryn Mann, Long Reach Community Association assistant administrator. "It takes some things that were fuzzy and makes them clear."

In confirming Mr. Lyons' victory, Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. concluded that Long Reach covenants entitle the owners of apartment buildings to only one vote per property, and not to one vote for each dwelling unit in a complex. That point of confusion was the crux of Dr. Bailey's lawsuit and Mr. Lyons' challenge of the original election.

Only two Columbia villages -- Kings Contrivance and River Hill -- have adopted a "one person, one vote" policy. In the other eight villages in the unincorporated city of 80,000, property owners are entitled to one vote for each property lot, condominium unit or cooperative unit owned.

Two apartment building owners cast 276 votes -- one for each dwelling unit -- for Dr. Bailey in the April 24 election, carrying her to victory. Mr. Lyons protested the election, prompting village officials to seek legal advice.

Village election officials had permitted apartment building owners to cast multiple votes in previous elections and affirmed the policy before the April 24 vote. But a legal opinion from the Baltimore firm Venable, Baetjer & Howard concluded that the practice was erroneous, prompting village officials to declare the April 24 election invalid and schedule a new one with revised rules.

Four days before the June 5 election, Dr. Bailey, a six-year council member, filed a lawsuit asking the court to block the second election and uphold her victory. The court denied her request, and Mr. Lyons won the election, 227 to 178.

DDr. Bailey challenged that election, claiming that ineligible voters were permitted to cast ballots. The village board found no grounds for the protest and dismissed it.

Mr. Lyons' victory left the court to decide which election would be valid and to interpret the rules.

"The court finds that Long Reach was correct in nullifying the results of the April 24, 1993, election and further finds that the conduct, as well as the results of, the [June 5 election] were valid and proper in all respects," the judge wrote.

The decision supports Long Reach's handling of the dispute, said Ms. Mann.

Dr. Bailey disagreed, saying, "It says [village officials] can do anything they want. They don't have to follow a process or rules," she said. "It's a blow to having an orderly organization you can rely on."

Long Reach village, which budgets $2,000 annually for legal fees, has been charged about $28,000 and will have to cut back in other areas to pay the legal bill, said Ms. Mann.

The 10-member Columbia Council sets policy and the budget for the Columbia Association, a private, nonprofit corporation that runs the unincorporated city's recreational facilities and community programs, and maintains open space areas.

The Long Reach Community Association and the Columbia Association were defendants.

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