Member's gripes claim elections board's time

Political notebook

August 06, 2006|By LARRY CARSON

With innovations such as early voting and electronic poll registration books to deal with this election year, the Howard County Board of Elections has lots to do, but instead of devoting all its time to the public's business, the three-member board spent more than half its meeting time last week discussing again the months-old complaints of board member Brenda Morstein that she and her husband, William, have been mistreated.

For more than an hour, the board wrestled with Mrs. Morstein's problems. First, she objected to the previous meeting's minutes' references to the board's legal fees and made an attempt to read a three-page letter "to right the wrong done to my husband."

Then she tried to gain board passage of three resolutions aimed at clearing her husband of allegations that he caused a potential security breach at the board's offices in June, trespassed in areas of the offices after hours where the public isn't allowed, and that board Chairman Guy L. Harriman committed malfeasance in his handling of the incidents and complaints.

"I would like to put on the record that there was no breach of security," she said, in an audiotape of the board meeting reviewed by The Sun.

"This will not continue to be dragged on," Harriman said at one point. "This is enough, Brenda. This is enough."

But the discussion did go on.

The incidents involving William Morstein occurred in June, when he accompanied his wife to an evening board meeting and was asked to wait outside the board room during an executive session. Instead of waiting at chairs just outside the room, he moved throughout the empty office, according to Betty Nordaas, the board administrator. She became concerned that his movements could be seen as a breach in office security because state officials had just conducted a security inspection of the offices on Columbia 100 Parkway in Ellicott City.

"She had to let county police know of a possible security breach," Harriman said, because if she didn't "she could lose her job."

But Morstein said her husband was merely looking for a water fountain, and the couple were insulted that he was viewed as a threat.

After two later visits to board offices, William Morstein was barred by a District Court order from entering private portions of the office until January. Two female board employees sought the court order, alleging that the 62-year old lawyer was loud and belligerent and put them in fear for their personal safety.

John D. Wafer, a Republican county central committee member who attended Monday's board meeting, said: "I thought it was the wrong place to discuss her [Morstein's] hurt feelings and the wrong time to do it. It was kind of sad."

Tony McGuffin, county Democratic Party chairman, also attended and called the meeting "an embarrassing experience."

"I think she has a terrible effect on the morale there," he said. "I think she should be replaced."

The governor, at the recommendation of his party central committee, can replace an elections board member for incompetence, misconduct "or other good cause" according to Maryland law, said Linda H. Lamone, State Board of Elections administrator.

Brian Harlin, the GOP county chairman, said he would try to mediate the problems. "We want everything to run smoothly" at the board, he said.

On Monday, Morstein's motions died for lack of a second. After all three motions failed, Mrs. Morstein accused Harriman of voicing racial and religious slurs to her, which he later denied.

"I know there's a lot of accusations here, but there's no substantiation whatsoever," said alternate Republican member Charles E. Poyer Jr.

"And now you're calling me a liar again," Mrs. Morstein responded.

Morstein and Harriman also are Republicans. James E. Poole is the board's Democratic member and Ann Balcerzak is the Democratic alternate. The three-member board is supposed to have a majority of members from the same party as Maryland's governor.

After the wrangling, interruptions, accusations and explanations, Mrs. Morstein left, but not before a few more comments.

"I have been lied to," she said. "I'm tired of working with people who are arrogant and pompous."

Asked by Poyer if that meant she was resigning from the board, she indicated that she wasn't.

"I am leaving this meeting right now" for a prearranged appointment, she said.

Later, Mrs. Morstein declined to comment when a reporter called.

In other action, the Board of Elections hired Michael Molinaro of the law firm Reese and Carney to be the board's attorney.

Executive race

On the county executive front, independent candidate C. Stephen Wallis submitted 286 pages of petitions filled with more than 2,600 signatures Thursday to the Board of Elections -- more than enough, he said, to qualify him as an official candidate.

"This represents a real satisfying goal for us because it's been so daunting," he said.

Elections board officials have 20 days to verify the signatures.

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