Harford official criticized for not resigning

April 26, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Deliberating a fundamental change to the election format, the Harford County Council faced a problem - one member was absent, and the other six were deadlocked. The 3-3 vote meant the measure failed.

The absent member - Robert G. Cassilly, an Army Reserve officer called to active duty in early February - later said he would have sought to defeat the measure anyway.

But the situation illustrated why the Republican councilman decided not to relinquish his seat before the fall, a decision he made known to his colleagues in an e-mail late Monday night. Cassilly said he feared that a replacement might swing the vote on important issues away from his preference.

Yesterday, council members criticized Cassilly's decision, saying it leaves Bel Air citizens without a voice and could lead to more deadlocked votes. Next month, the council will vote on the county budget for the coming year, and a comprehensive rezoning bill remains in dispute.

Council President Robert S. Wagner, who said he has not heard from Cassilly since his departure for training in North Carolina two months ago, called the decision "irresponsible."

Richard C. Slutzky, a Republican from Aberdeen, said, "We have a void at this point. I don't know who would have taken his place, but they would've brought another set of expertise and knowledge base to the council. We've given that up now."

In his statement, Cassilly said his decision was influenced by concern over who might be picked to finish his term. He has been said by county political insiders to favor Bel Air Mayor Terence O. Hanley, but the Republican Central Committee is required to nominate three candidates from whom the council will chose a replacement.

James V. McMahan Jr., a Bel Air town commissioner who recently switched to the Republican Party, said he was interested in the spot and will be a candidate in the fall election. He said he supported Cassilly's decision.

"His decision is totally his decision," McMahan said. "I respect it, and he is a great patriot for his service."

Others, such as County Executive David R. Craig, who spoke with Cassilly while he deliberated on his decision, said the council's schedule for the coming months made the choice inconsequential. The council likely would have approved a replacement at its final meeting in June, and there are only two meetings from then through August. The primary election is in September.

But Councilwoman Veronica L. "Roni" Chenowith said the job consists of tending to the needs of citizens on a day-to-day basis, not just attending meetings.

"I can't presume to think for him or be his conscience, but I do think that he leaves the voters in his district in limbo as far as somebody to fight their battles for them," said the Republican from Fallston.

Originally, Cassilly had planned to seek re-election while he is away, having family members run his campaign. But he failed to register as a candidate before his mobilization became official, and a military directive prohibits political activity - including filing to run for political office - while on active duty. Cassilly is entitled to retain the position until the election but cannot participate in council business.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

To read Robert G. Cassilly's letter, go to baltimoresun.com/cassilly.

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