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Bill Proposes Transparent Legislative Appointments

Montgomery's two newest state legislators -- Dels. Kirill Reznik and C. William Frick -- may have been sworn in by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) earlier this month, but the controversy over how they were chosen by the county's Democratic Central Committee continues.

A group of delegates, led by Saqib Ali of District 39, has introduced legislation to try to make the process for filling vacancies more transparent.

The openings were created when former senator P.J. Hogan and former delegate Marilyn Goldwater resigned their seats. The central committee, a group of elected representatives, accepted applications from candidates and made their selections through a vote by secret ballot. The nominations were then submitted to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) for approval.

To Ali, the secret balloting "means that these crucially important elections are decided by a small group of well-connected party insiders in complete secrecy without any transparency or accountability to the hundreds of thousands of Montgomery County residents that elected them."

"This should trouble anyone who is an advocate of open, honest government. It certainly troubles me. I don't know who my elected MCDCC members voted for. And neither do you," he wrote on his blog, www.9saqibali.9org.

Ali is joined in his effort by Democratic delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez, Karen S. Montgomery and Hank Heller.

It is important to note that Ali was among the candidates vying for Hogan's job. That position went to former delegate, now Sen. Nancy J. King. Reznik, a government contractor, was chosen to replace King in District 39, which stretches from Montgomery Village to Damascus. and Frick, an attorney a lawyer, fills Goldwater's seat in District 16, which includes Bethesda and Potomac.

Ali insisted that the bill is not meant as a criticism of the new appointments, who are "fine individuals and friends of mine," but "for the future, the process needs to be reformed."

The legislation, which would prohibit the use of secret ballots, would only affect only the Democratic and Republican central committees in Montgomery County.

Republican Party Chairman Tom Reinheimer, who said his party's central committee often votes by secret ballot, derided the legislation as micromanagement. "Leave us out of it," he said. "It's party business, and they have no business directing legislation that tells the Republicans how to conduct their central committees."

The local Democratic chairman, Karen Britto, referred all questions about the legislation to the state Democratic Party headquarters.

According to state Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson, the state party bylaws call for a vote by roll call to fill vacancies. The way Montgomery's central committee has interpreted the requirement, according to Paulson, is to hold an open meeting, in which members say "present" at roll call and then cast paper ballots in secret. At least three counties on the Eastern Shore and Charles County use a similar system.

The procedure was set up in 2001 in Montgomery, Paulson said, to "protect the vote from political influence and cronyism," and no one has complained. Until now. While it is not clear if the legislation will be embraced by a majority of the delegation, the measure's introduction has gotten party insiders talking about making some changes without legislation.

Britto again deferred to Paulson. All Paulson would say was, "there are individuals who would like to examine the issue and address it over the next few months."

A public hearing on the bill will be held on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the County Council building in Rockville.

By Anne Bartlett  |  October 25, 2007; 11:23 AM ET
Categories:  Ann Marimow  
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Comments

With all due respect to Delegate Ali, this bill is wrongheaded for a couple of reasons. His goals are right, but the means of getting there are wrong, as I see it.

First, this bill only addresses Montgomery County. That's inappropriate. The entire state should be subject to the same rules.

Second, the problem is not that the Democratic Party has adopted a bad rule. In fact, the State party requires that delegate appointments be made by "roll call" ballot. Montgomery County's Democratic Central Committee, however, believes that it has a better idea: a roll call ballot to see who's here, and then a secret ballot.

This provision of the local Central Committee rule is in violation of the State party rules, which are mandatory. What should happen, respectfully, is not for Delegate Ali and others to pass a bill, but for some like-minded individual(s) to grab the bull by the horns and take the local Central Committee to court to force it to follow the rules of the State party. The interpretation put on the State rule by the local party is simply not tenable, and it will not withstand even the slightest scrutiny by a judge.

In short, this is not a problem in search of a legislative solution, but an arrogant refusal of a local party to adhere to the state rules, and of a state party afraid to anger a local party by forcing it to do what the rules require. It's tailor-made for a judicial resolution, and that's what ought to happen.

Delegate Ali, the ball's in your court. No pun intended.

Posted by: lefty | October 25, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

There are too many typos in this article Ann! Please proofread it and correct.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 25, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

This bill is only a small part of the problem. We have people running for four year terms, who possibly know that they don't intend to serve much past the first session. Then the voters are cut out of a choiced for the next three and one half years. I know special elections cost money, just as special sessions do. But why don't we at least have these resignation-caused vacancies filled at the next regular biennial election when the vacancy takes place within one year, nine months of the original election. In other words, If Jack or Jill is elected in November 06 to the House or Senate and resigns in May of 07, then the vacancy should be filled for the second half of the four year term by the voters.

Posted by: Robin Ficker of Robin Realty | October 25, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

For once Robin Ficker is Right!!

Posted by: Could Robbin be Right? | October 25, 2007 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Robin Ficker is right.

But his solution would require a constitutional ammendment.

That is a very high bar to clear. You can bet that Mike Miller would easily kill it.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 25, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

What about the MoCo Green Party???!!! Those people can be just as corrupt as the Republocrats!

:P

Posted by: nat | October 25, 2007 5:30 PM | Report abuse

What happens if a delegate or senator has to resign for health reasons or (heaven forbid) dies- their constituents just lose their representation for up to 18 months?

Since special elections tend to have low voter turnouts, why couldn't they run it with only one or two large centrally located polling stations? The people who care enough to vote special election are probably the only people to care enough to make a special trip.

Posted by: Wheaton | October 25, 2007 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Ficker means that the seat should remain vacant until the next regular election. Someone could be appointed until the next biennial election when the voters, who are cut out in the present system, would have a say.

Posted by: Voter person | October 25, 2007 8:20 PM | Report abuse

The Voter Person has a good point. The Central Committee should appoint someone (hopefully in a more transparent way that currently done), but that appointment should only stand until the next election. In this case, it could be the February primary or the November election. In that way, the voters would be represented, but they would have a say at the soonest practical time. Such a system would be infinitely more democratic that the current one, which is reminisent of back-room, machine politics. I hope the people who are concerned about this issue, will come to Delegate Ali's hearing on his bill on November 15 at the County Council Building in Rockville.

Posted by: Another voter, Bethesda | October 29, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

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