Ousted election panel member sues Ehrlich

Not waiting for Senate to vote on replacement violated law, suit says

July 20, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

An ousted member of the Maryland State Board of Elections sued Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday, claiming that the governor violated state law by removing her before the Democrat-controlled Senate agreed on a replacement.

In a case with political overtones, Bobbie S. Mack of Prince George's County said in the lawsuit that she should remain a board member until the Senate votes on a subsequent appointment. Ehrlich announced this month that another Democrat, former state elections chief Gene M. Raynor, would replace Mack immediately.

The unpaid position on the bi-partisan, five-member state board has been the source of dispute because of Ehrlich's stated desire to replace Linda H. Lamone, the full-time state elections adminstrator, who is a holdover from Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Under election law changes passed in 2002, Lamone can be replaced only after four of five state board members settle on a legally acceptable reason, such as malfeasance. Raynor, a close ally of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who has criticized Lamone, is expected to provide the governor with the final vote needed for a new administrator.

Democratic senators have defended Lamone and were considering a bill this year to give them a formal voice in the hiring of a new administrator. The bill was killed after lawmakers reached a deal with Ehrlich aides that, in part, led to Mack's appointment to the final three months of an unexpired term.

Leading senators say they were stunned and angered when Ehrlich decided not to reappoint Mack, the only African-American on the panel, when her term expired June 30.

With a Republican governor in office, the election board must consist of three Republicans and two Democrats. But senators say courtesy and tradition demands that they, not the governor, select the Democratic members.

Mack's lawsuit raises the stakes over the elections board choice and highlights the tensions of the divided government in Maryland.

Senate consent is required for appointments to various boards and commissions, a check and balance that has been problem-free in the past, when Democrats controlled the executive and legislative branches.

But with a Republican making the selection, laws and practices are receiving greater scrutiny.

Mack's attorney, Bruce L. Marcus, pointed out that under state election law, a sitting board member serves "until a successor is appointed and qualifies."

Qualification, Marcus said, means Senate approval. "The law requires that the Senate's role not be undercut by the governor's action," he said.

But the General Assembly recessed in April and probably won't convene again until January. To keep the state government running smoothly, said Ehrlich's appointments secretary, Lawrence Hogan Jr., those appointed to boards when the legislature is out must be allowed to serve.

"It would be major gridlock," Hogan said. "There are 7,800 positions on these boards and commissions. It would just be complete and utter chaos if we had to wait until next January" for Senate approval.

Hogan called the lawsuit a publicity stunt.

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