Mayor, council vote on hold

Legal battle is likely to postpone Aberdeen's Nov. 6 city elections

October 21, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

With a postponement of Aberdeen's election looming, candidates for mayor and City Council are likely to have a longer campaign period and shorter terms in office.

The Nov. 6 election is on hold until the dispute regarding Steven C. Johnson's candidacy is resolved. Earlier this month, the city's election board concluded Johnson did not meet residency requirements and rejected his candidate filing.

Johnson sued, and on Friday, Harford County Circuit Judge Stephen Waldron said Johnson would have to appeal to the council, as laid out by the city's charter. A timetable was issued to complete the appeal process, meaning the election could be on hold until early 2008, if not later.

The current mayor and four council members will remain in office until the election winners are sworn in, city officials said.

The delay also means that candidates, who had planned for a Nov. 6 election, now have more time to campaign. Some challengers said that gives incumbents an unfair advantage and criticized the current officeholders.

"They're aware of the loopholes and shortcomings in our charter," council candidate Richard Denu said of the administration. "They've never been resolved or rectified. Really, I see this as irresponsibility on their part.

"Steve Johnson is exercising his right to vote," Denu said. "He is utilizing all those shortcomings and lack of definition about lack of residency in the charter."

Calling the situation "ridiculous," Bruce Garner, another candidate for council, said he will refrain from posting campaign signs until a month before the new election date.

"The incumbents benefit more than any of the candidates," he said. "These people are going to serve longer terms. It hurts us. We're going to have to spend more money and time."

When the incumbents learned about the possibility of a delayed election, some expressed frustration.

"This is a game-playing by people outside the city, by people who'd like to co-opt the government," Councilman David Yensan said at a special council session on Thursday. "This has now gotten very serious."

Johnson said he has mixed feelings about the election being put on hold.

"I know some candidates worked very hard up till now to get to where they are," he said. "The other side is, it gives me time to be heard and the process to take place to get the due process that I'm looking for."

Earlier this week, Johnson's lawyer, Joe Creed, said a delay would not hurt his client's chance in the election.

"Ultimately he has the right to participate," Creed said. "Voters will be understanding of that."

Garner said he worried about the legal expenses the city will incur in its dispute with Johnson.

"It's going to cost taxpayers," Garner said. "Mr. Johnson is paying a private lawyer. Simmons has a city lawyer. It's just bad for the city. It's just another burden of money we have to pay."

Douglas Miller, city manager, said that the city would incur more legal expenses depending on how long the matter is drawn out.

An election costs the city about $12,000 to $15,000, Miller said. The city has already spent about $1,500 in preparation for the Nov. 6 date, printing materials such as sample ballots and absentee ballots.

madison.park@baltsun.com

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