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October 14, 2004

Here We Go Again

George Wenschhof

I am so consumed by the national election, I had promised myself I would not comment on local Issues until after November 2nd. However, the local residency requirement for mayor of the City of Frederick has caught my attention.

What is known is that the city's charter requires that a candidate for mayor reside in the city for three consecutive years prior to the election.

I heard for the first time at a Preakness Party earlier this year that former Mayor Ron Young was going to challenge Mayor Jennifer Dougherty in 2005. I pointed out a problem: as far as I knew, the former mayor did not meet the residency requirements under the charter. No one had bothered to check that document. I advised them to obtain a copy and read it to confirm the residency requirements.

In subsequent articles in The Frederick News Post it was reported that former Mayor Jim Grimes, as well as Mr. Young, was considering running again without any reference to the City Charter residency requirement.

Several of those at that May party were regular commentators on the local "Pressing Issues" television show and the subject was discussed on subsequent shows.

Soon a rumor made the rounds saying that Delegate Galen Clagett (D., 3rd) had an opinion from the Maryland Attorney General's office that the current charter language pertaining to residency for candidates was vague and would not hold up to a challenge and therefore Mr. Young would be eligible to run. I questioned that rumor and asked if that opinion was in writing.

Months went by, and the next rumor I heard was that either Aldermen Dave Lenhart or Bill Hall was going to introduce an amendment to the charter reducing the residency requirement to one year. I wondered if anyone had looked into the requirements and the process to change the charter, for I felt that at a minimum some public notice would be required.

Several more months went by. On September 16th Alderman Lenhart did bring up the topic of a residency requirement change to the charter at a city workshop. Mayor Dougherty's reported response was there did not appear to be sufficient interest and that it would not be possible to meet Alderman Lenhart's request to have the discussion on the agenda of a mayor and board meeting this year.

This led those who were in favor of a reduced residency requirement to claim that Mayor Dougherty was delaying the vote to keep an individual from meeting the one-year residency requirement.

Next Alderman Lenhart asked State Senator Alex Mooney (R., 3rd) to request an opinion from the Attorney General. Senator Mooney did make such a request and I have been told that a letter has been received from an assistant attorney general. It is reported that it said that the laws in several municipalities calling for a three year residency requirement for their local elected offices had been overturned by the courts.

Within the last week, I had a discussion with Mr. Young, who again informed me he was going to file to run for mayor. I asked him how he was going to do that when the current law prohibits him from running and he indicated that he would file and make Mayor Dougherty file suit against him.

I failed to ask him how he was going to answer the question on the application for mayor from the Board of Elections that asks if the applicant has been a resident for a minimum of three years preceding the election. It appears that it would not be the mayor, but the Board of Election Supervisors who would have to deal with this issue.

This brings us to the present day in the residency requirement saga in the City of Frederick.

Timing is everything, whether it is personal relationships, business, or politics. I believe that this may be the wrong time to try to make this change. People will perceive that this was done only for the benefit of one or two people who may choose to run for mayor next year. We are only one year from the next city elections and sufficient input from the public should be received prior to amending the City Charter.

I do, however, believe that the suggestion to reduce to one year the residency requirement for mayor has merit.

I would hope that the mayor would appoint a bipartisan committee that would include an attorney and charge them with developing a change to the City Charter residency requirement. This would include any required notice to the public and receipt of public comment. This committee would be charged with bringing a recommendation, if any, to the mayor and board for action in a timely manner.

Regardless of the outcome of this residency issue, the City of Frederick election next year promises to be exciting.

Stayed tuned!

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