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.
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