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As Long as We Remember...

June 2, 2011

Refusing to Bite One’s Lip

Blaine R. Young

Okay, so here we raise the curtain on Act Two of the drama over the members of the Charter Writing Board as appointed by the Board of County Commissioners.


The petitioners, whose application calling for a special election to “pick” the members of that board, have retained – although it be “pro-bono” – the services of former County Commissioner John L. “Lennie” Thompson, Jr. He has filed for a judicial review of the disqualification of the petition by the local Board of Elections, which notified the petitioners that they had not obtained the required 2,000 valid signatures of registered Frederick County voters.


Now, am I surprised? No.


Am I surprised they did not get the 2,000 valid signatures? No.


Am I surprised they want to take this issue to court? Again, the answer is no.


Why was I not surprised that they did not get the required 2,000 valid signatures? Well, they only turned in 2,915 signatures (not 2,856 as they first thought and claimed). Heck, they did not even know how many signatures they turned in!


The majority of those putting their names forward for consideration to be placed on the ballot and those helping gather signatures were lead by former County Commissioner Kai Hagen (Envision Frederick County) and Janice Wiles (Friends of Frederick). Both individuals think they know what is best for you and your family.


What do I mean by that you ask? Well, it is simple. They had an opportunity to sit down with the Board of Elections and have the process and procedure explained to them so they could alleviate any issues or problems with getting valid signatures. They failed to do so. However, Board of Elections Director Stuart Harvey did correspond via email to help them remedy some issues; but, even then they failed to take his advice. This did not – and does not – surprise me one bit.


They had several common problems that could have been corrected if they would have just asked the Board of Elections and worked with Mr. Harvey from the beginning. These were simple issues such as putting correct dates, telling people to use their full name, and having specific information on the petition that is required by the Maryland Constitution. It was not anything mind-boggling.


At first Mr. Hagen and Ms. Wiles claimed no real involvement other than moral support and encouragement. However as time went on we all found out their true involvement and it was much more than what they claimed. They were doing all they could to help the petitioners get the required signatures.


Now, they had 60 days from the day the Board of County Commissioners appointed the Charter Writing Board and they could only muster 2,915 signatures. I say this only because, with 10-plus people involved in this effort, if each of them had gotten only a handful of signatures each day…well, you know where this is going.


So, as you can see, they did not really want it that badly, or the majority of them were not willing to work very hard for it. Perhaps they simply could not convince enough voters of the need for a special election to select those who would write the proposed charter that would then go to the electorate in 2012 for approval.


If they had 3,500 to 4,000 signatures, the chances of having enough signatures would greatly improve. I know Ellis Burruss, one of the organizers who worked very hard. I do not agree with his politics. But if he hadn’t relied on Ms. Wiles, who supposedly had a lot of knowledge on petitions and was used as a resource to educate the organizers, maybe his own signature would have been validated.


You read that correctly. Ellis Burruss, one of the lead organizers in this petition drive, did not have his own signature validated because of an incorrect dating issue. The person they used as a lead resource on how to correctly do a petition, Ms. Wiles, signed the petition twice! One signature counted and one was thrown out.


My colleague, Frederick County Commissioner David Gray, who participated in the selection process for the current Charter Writing Board, and who never objected to that process, had many of the signatures he collected thrown out because of a dating issue. Heck, he even signed the petition. His signature was thrown out with the note “PAGE – Petition Format” – a processing issue. However, Mr. Gray’s wife’s signature was accepted.


Now, I do not understand why Commissioner Gray collected signatures for the petition and personally donated money to the petitioners’ cause. Only he can answer that question.


I do not know if the petitioners will win their judicial review or not; but they have not earned it, and they have not explained to the taxpayers of Frederick why we need to spend $250,000 on a special election to select a new charter writing board when they have not shown that they are open minded, have a willingness to learn, or are even smart enough to follow a simple state petition gathering process. If they can’t do that I could only imagine what type of charter they would submit to the voters.


This is my opinion and only my opinion. Maybe I should not speak my mind sometimes, but I could no longer bite my lip on this issue.


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