New Windsor council's tie-breaking decision displeases state delegate

Elliott wants law passed to allow runoff election

May 25, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Since last week, visitors to Del. Donald B. Elliott's pharmacy have been asking him what he thought of the New Windsor Town Council's decision to break a tie in the recent election by appointing a councilman rather than allow voters to decide the winner in a runoff.

He thinks it's wrong, he said, even if it turns out to be legal.

If the council's decision Wednesday is legal, he wants to have the General Assembly draft a law that would allow a municipality to have a runoff election to break a tie.

"It was just a surprise to me it was resolved in this manner," said Elliott, who lives in New Windsor and has a pharmacy four miles away in Union Bridge. "I'm concerned that no matter whose side you were on, whomever you favored as a candidate here, the resolution of this election was grossly unfair."

The May 11 election in New Windsor produced clear winners for two of the three council seats that were open. But two men, incumbent Paul Garver and challenger Samuel Pierce, tied for third place with 178 votes each.

It was a first for the 155-year-old town, and officials scrambled to hold a late-night meeting Wednesday to hear from lawyers about how to resolve the tie.

The town charter did not address a tie, and it was unclear whether the town needed a runoff election or the council should appoint someone, the way it would to fill another vacancy.

Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. called upon municipal law expert Neal M. Janey of Baltimore and Annapolis city attorney Paul Goetzke to attend the meeting and render opinions. Janey, Goetzke, New Windsor town attorney Marker Lovell and assistant town attorney Michelle Ostrander reached the same conclusion.

They said case law dating to 1911 said that in the event of a tie, no one is elected and the position is vacant. The New Windsor charter says that in the case of a vacancy, the council appoints someone to fill it.

Three members of the council accepted the advice, but Councilman Neal Roop voted against appointing someone, saying that he believed the language on vacancy was meant to address an official's death or move from town.

The council voted 3-1 to appoint Garver, the incumbent.

Elliott noted that two of those three council members ran in that same election, as a team with Garver.

"I do believe that a number of people who voted for [Pierce] feel disenfranchised by what happened," Elliott said.

"I still question whether this was the only option that could have been taken to address the situation," he said. "If there's no other option, the only answer to that is to put into statute how it should be done."

Janey, at the meeting, told town officials that if Maryland had a law specifying that towns can have a runoff election in the case of a tie, the town could have done so, regardless of whether it was in the charter. Most other states do have such a law, Janey said.

But Maryland doesn't. The state constitution addresses ties, and says they should be resolved by a runoff, but it applies only to state races, not to municipalities, said lawyers and staff for the Maryland Municipal League.

Elliott said he plans to research the matter.

Elliott has lived in New Windsor for more than 30 years and had a pharmacy in that town about 20 years before selling it and moving his business to Union Bridge. As a delegate, he has tried not to meddle in town politics, he said.

"I've tried to stay apart from the town [officials] and let them do their thing," Elliott said. "For the most part, they do a good job. But I do have a problem with what happened here."

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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