Republicans call for removal of city election board member

Panelist criticized for writing letter denouncing Annapolis alderman

June 17, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis Republican Central Committee has called for the removal of a city election board member, saying she showed an inappropriate bias in publicly criticizing an alderman and asserting that he would not be re-elected.

The committee criticized board member Gertrude "Trudi" McGowan for a recently published letter to the editor, in which she expressed "outrage" over Alderman Herbert H. McMillan's proposed anti-loitering bill. "Mr. McMillan, you will not be re-elected!" the letter to a local newspaper concluded.

McMillan, a white Republican who represents majority-black Ward 5, has been severely criticized for the bill. Several African-American community leaders say it would give police officers the power to harass all blacks standing on sidewalks and have started gathering signatures to oust McMillan. If he were recalled, he would undergo a re-election process, which McGowan's three-member board would oversee.

"If this recall comes to pass, she's going to have a say in how things move forward," said Sara White, who represents Ward 5 on the Republican committee. "She's going to be making some decisions. I thought she tipped her hand in how she leaned, and it's not appropriate or professional. I don't think Herb is going to get a fair trial if this recall happens."

The committee sent a letter Friday calling for McGowan's removal to Richard E. Israel, chairman of the city Board of Supervisors of Elections, saying, "Character assassinations, racial infighting, and election sour-grapes have no place in the public safety debate. Ms. McGowan will undoubtedly be one of Mr. McMillan's jurors should this unfair recall effort succeed. Unfortunately, she has squandered her credibility and diminished the stature of your Board."

McGowan, a Democrat who has served on the board since 1994, said yesterday that her letter to the editor was "not an attack on [McMillan] per se."

"That ward is a predominantly African-American ward and the man is really not representing all of the people in his community," said McGowan, who is black. "I can't understand him. But I'm not going to be working toward anything to remove him, and I'm not going to write anything else about him."

She said she would remain impartial if a re-election were to take place.

"I'm always fair," she said. "I'm decent and respectful. I call a spade a spade, and even the mayor can tell you that."

Israel said he had spoken with McGowan.

"I pointed out that although it is not illegal for members of the election board to comment on public controversy, they take an oath to impartially administer the law and have to be perceived as being fair," Israel said. "So they should refrain from any sort of conduct or remarks that might suggest the appearance of political bias."

He has written a letter to the Republican committee saying he has spoken to McGowan and that, "it is my opinion that in view of her entire record of dedicated service, this incident does not warrant her removal."

He said he does not have power to remove McGowan; the City Council does. Board members are appointed by the council. McGowan was reappointed to a four-year term six months ago.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson said he is looking into who would handle such a situation. "There are some real unclear areas," he said.

McMillan said he did not ask the Republican committee to write to Israel about McGowan, but said he was glad they did because he felt the last quote of her letter to the editor was a "threat, coming from somebody who sits on the Board of Election Supervisors."

"From an individual citizen, that's fine," he said. "But from somebody who would be counting ballots if the election was close? That's inappropriate."

White said that she has not received Israel's letter and that her committee will have to meet to decide on a next step.

Ted Staples, who represents Ward 6 on the committee, said he hopes McGowan would opt not to be involved in McMillan's re-election process if a recall occurred.

"The Board of Election Supervisors is supposed to be impartial," Staples said. "She can say she's impartial but she's already written a letter saying she's not. If she had a sense of fair play and a sense of integrity, she would recuse herself."

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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