New Windsor Town Council went into executive session last night to discuss whether Councilman Paul G. Garver is still a town resident and could keep the seat he won in 1999, after a tied election.
Garver, whose residency became an issue after a letter appeared in the Carroll County Times during the holidays, joined the mayor and council in the closed session. Garver, 50, whose family has lived in New Windsor for generations, declined to comment before the session.
Councilman Neal Roop made a motion to keep the meeting open, but it failed for lack of a second.
Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. said yesterday that the town charter allows the meeting to be closed in an executive function because it involves the qualifications of its members.
The controversy stems from a letter written by Sam Pierce, the man with whom Garver tied at 178 votes in the May 1999 town election for the council. At least three other residents later questioned Garver's residency.
Garver has been paying rent for a room at Gullo's home in town and got mail and remained registered to vote in New Windsor, Gullo said.
These were important factors in the legal issue, said Gullo, who is a lawyer.
Two town attorneys told the council last month that under Maryland law, a person may have many residences but can choose only one as his domicile for the purpose of an election. They highlighted a 1998 opinion by the Maryland Court of Appeals, ruling on a challenge to the residency of Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount of Baltimore, that an apartment without a telephone could be his domicile, if that was his intent.
Also last night, the council passed an amendment to the town charter that will allow a run-off election if a tie vote occurs again. With no such provision in 1999, the council followed the advice of several attorneys and declared a vacancy, then chose the incumbent Garver to fill it.
Neal M. Janey, a municipal law expert retained to study the issue for the town, said a run-off election would have been illegal. Throughout America, most tie votes are settled by a lottery: "Someone flips a coin or pulls a straw out of a hat."
An informal poll of the council by Gullo in October showed the members were leaning toward a lottery. By last month's council meeting, however, a discussion by the members showed a new consensus for creating a provision for run-off elections.