Attorney picked to fill council seat

Primary runner-up replaces Cliff Roop, who died Jan. 3

`I'm pleased and excited'

In third secret ballot, GOP's Vitale wins over 11 others

February 02, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

It wasn't how she hoped to get there, but Republican Cathleen M. Vitale of Severna Park became the newest member of the Anne Arundel County Council last night, succeeding the late Cliff Roop as the 5th District representative.

The council chose Vitale over 11 other candidates to serve the final three years of Roop's term.

Roop died of a heart attack during the Jan. 3 council meeting.

Vitale finished second to him in the 1998 primary election.

"I'm pleased and excited and the work starts now," said Vitale, a lawyer who chairs the county Republican Central Committee.

Vitale said she hopes to unite residents in Severna Park and Broadneck, and that the council must strike a balance between fostering economic development and protecting the environment.

"It's not going to be easy," she said.

A majority of the council chose Vitale on the third secret ballot.

On the first ballot, Vitale got three votes, and Scott Gregory, Ted Janssen and Larry Masterson each received one.

Janssen and Masterson received votes in the second round.

The council voted 4-2 to decide by secret ballot rather than by roll call, so individual members' votes were not made public.

Voting by secret or written ballot appeared to comply with state law, but the idea rankled Councilman Bill D. Burlison, a Democrat who joined Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle in opposing the motion for secrecy.

"It's true the secret ballot is a cornerstone of democratic society, but this is a different election," Burlison said before the meeting. "This is an election by an institution, the County Council, to fill a vacancy. The sun should shine on it, and the public should have full knowledge and understanding."

The executive director of Common Cause/Maryland said council members would be acting like "arbitrary sovereigns" if they prevented the public from learning how each member voted.

The council barely discussed the issue before voting.

Roop's death has preoccupied the council.

Even as they mourned, his former colleagues had to turn quickly to filling the position because the County Charter requires the vacancy be filled within 30 days.

Roop's seat attracted a large field, including a teacher, a lawyer, a former volunteer firefighter and a former lobbyist.

In their applications, several stressed how "cooperative" they would be and "problem-solving" they can be. Most of the candidates have little professional experience but are active in their communities.

Applicants had to be registered Republicans for the past year and live in the 5th District, which includes the Broadneck Peninsula. Democrats control the body, with five members, although many votes do not follow party lines.

Because Roop served longer than one year, it fell to the council to pick a successor to serve out the term, as spelled out in the charter.

If Roop had served less than a year, the council would have to pick a temporary replacement until the November election.

Under state law, council members could have excluded the public from its deliberations.

The state's open meeting law does not apply to an "executive function," and the state attorney general's office has said that a public body performs an executive, rather than a legislative, function when it fills a vacancy on its own body.

On at least one occasion, the County Council voted by written ballot, said Judy Holmes, the council's administrative officer.

Some years ago, the council chose members of the Board of Appeals in that fashion, she said.

The charter is specific about how quickly vacancies must be filled and who decides, but it makes no reference to how the council may decide.

And while the council's rules require roll-call votes on proposed ordinances and resolutions, they are silent on the subject of voting by ballot.

When council rules are silent on an issue, Holmes said, the council turns to Robert's Rules of Order, which does permit voting by written ballot.

A recent version of the rules states that voting by ballot "is resorted to when the question is of such a nature that some members might hesitate to vote publicly their true sentiments."

It goes on to say that such voting is "rarely, if ever, used in legislative bodies, but in ordinary societies, especially secret ones, it is habitually used."

Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, said the council sent a bad message.

"We're talking about, in effect, the council imposing its choice on a whole community of constituents," Skullney said. "So, rather than acting like arbitrary sovereigns, what a great opportunity to act like bona fide representatives of the people and bring the people into the process."

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