Ruling might delay vote

Aberdeen candidate will pursue appeal

October 20, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

A Harford County judge put Aberdeen's Nov. 6 election in limbo yesterday when he issued an injunction and ordered a disqualified candidate who had sued the city to pursue his appeal through the City Council.

City officials said the decision in Circuit Court all but guarantees a postponement of the election.

"The collection of evidence and all the open meetings and the scheduling of witnesses, it's going to take the full 45 days," Mayor S. Fred Simmons said of the appeal process. "It's intricate and takes great deal of time, because there are lots of components."

The city of 15,000 faces budget troubles and looming growth because of the national military base realignment.

This month, the city's election board denied Steven C. Johnson a spot on the ballot after concluding that candidates must live within city limits for two years to be eligible to run. Officials pointed to several public records listing a Perryman address as Johnson's primary residence.

But Johnson, who owns a pharmacy in the city, maintains that his primary residence is an Aberdeen address. Though the city's charter stipulates that an appeal go through the council, Johnson questioned whether he could get a fair hearing from would-be election opponents and instead took the matter to court.

A judge issuing an injunction to stop an election is "highly unusual," Jim Peck, research director for the Maryland Municipal League, said yesterday.

"I've been here around 24 years," Peck said. "If there are specific examples where it has happened, it's sufficiently far and rare."

After meeting with attorneys for both parties in his chambers yesterday, Judge Stephen M. Waldron said both sides had agreed to an injunction, and he laid out a timetable for Johnson's appeal.

Johnson is expected to file the appeal Monday, his lawyer said. Waldron allowed the council 30 days to hold hearings on the appeal and 15 days to render a decision. If Johnson is dissatisfied with the outcome, he would have 10 days to take the matter to court.

When asked whether he would take that step if his appeal is rejected, Johnson said, "I don't like to predict the future, so I would have to see."

City officials estimate it could take until early next year to resolve the matter and hold the election. But it could take even longer if the case ends up back in court.

The city has made contingency plans. If the election is postponed, all five incumbents would remain in office until the winners are sworn in. The new council and mayor would serve shortened tenures in what would have been two-year terms.

In a special session Thursday, several council members reacted angrily when they learned the election could be postponed.

"This is incredible - absolutely incredible," Councilman Ronald Kupferman said. "I guess you can't use common sense in this thing. Somebody call Steve Johnson and say what ... are you trying to prove here? I mean, get a life."

While the appeal is pending, Johnson would have the right to campaign, the judge said.

"I've been campaigning all along, going door to door, letting them know the situation," Johnson said. "I will continue to do that. ... I already have signs."

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