Neil Ridgely amended several bullet points in this blog to acknowledge that the commissioners did discuss this topic in an open meeting. The information that has been added is in italics. The meeting can be viewed here: http://carrollcountymd.iqm2.com/citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=1643&AgendaID=1515&FileFormat=pdf&Format=Agenda&MediaFileFormat=wmv
“Who is the County Attorney’s client?” This is the first question asked by State Senator Joe Getty when discussing the law suit that 3 of the County Commissioners have filed against the State of Maryland over the statewide redistricting plan.It’s a very important question and one that I feel should make citizens very angry that it had to be raised in a public meeting.
The County video of that meeting is very telling as you will see Commissioner Howard become quite annoyed with Getty for raising the issue and then trying to shut the discussion down so it could be further discussed in a back room. It runs about five minutes and can be found at this link by advancing the button below the video screen to the 1 hour 57 minute mark to cut to the chase:http://carrollcountymd.iqm2.com/citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=1644&MinutesID=1412&FileFormat=pdf&Format=Minutes&MediaFileFormat=wmv
Caught in the middle of all this is County Attorney who has to do what he is told if he is to keep his appointed position, regardless of whether he believes there is validity to the suit or not. He was directed to file the suit by a majority of theCommissioners and so he has, as he should. Now his office may bear the brunt of the considerable time and expense of the lawsuit (remember that $200,000 political/legal slush fund the Commish created when elected?). My guess is that the Commish intend to off this case onto a local, politically favored law firm at $450 an hour as they did in a recent ethics hearing.
In as brief an outline as I can make of this issue I am actually going to use some of the arguments presented by Senator Getty at the meeting on this past Thursday; bear in mind that Getty & Commissioner Shoemaker were the only attorneys present in the room at the time of the meeting:
- This is a matter of politics far more than it is one of governance. Howard, Rothschild and Roush can try to paint it as one of governance but that argument fails the smell-o-meter test.Why are the Commissioners getting involved in a state districtingmatter? The redistricting has no effect on the County Commissioner'selection districts. The so-called gored bulls here are the Carroll Delegates.
- Does the County Attorney work for the citizens of Carroll County,the Board of Commissioners, the Legislative Delegation or threeCommissioners with a political axe to grind?The 3 members of the Carroll Delegation, Stocksdale, Krebs & Elliot are the only ones in the delegation filing suit and they are doing so individually, or so it appears but then Getty points out that if they are filing suit individually, what the heck is the County Attorney doing carrying their water for them?
- If 3 Commissioners feel so compelled as to sue the state over the redistricting they should personally file the suit, not use their elective office, public funds and the County Attorney to do so.The County is legally prevented from suing the State of Maryland.In so many words, one arm of government is prevented from suing the body.
- The Commissioners use of the County Attorney to file this suit is probably a violation of the County Ethics law (Howard retorted that Gettywould have to ask the County Attorney this question!)
- The agenda for their May 1, 2012 meeting indicated only “Possible vote on redistricting petition.” This intentionally vague agenda assured them a vacant audience that day. It is obvious that County Attorney Tim Burke had been directed to come to that meeting with a Power Point presentation in hand and was there to solely discuss filing a suit against the state. In fact Commissioner Howard tries to cover up just how the item got on the agenda by claiming that he asked to have it put on when he is interrupted by Commissioner Rothschild who states that he issued the “Goldenrod” on this matter. There is much more to be found out about the secret “Goldenrod form of Communication the Commissioners and County staff have been using behind closed doors.
- Only now have the Commissioners issued a last-minute amendment to their agenda for May 10th to include an item, “Discussion and vote to require a separate vote with public input if outside cost exceeds $1000.00 on redistricting lawsuit.” So we now have a vote to vote on whether the public should be allowed input. Isn’t that revealing?
- Individuals from Frederick and Carroll Counties have shown the legal way to go about filing a lawsuit over redistricting. Although I do not agree with them, these individuals have put their personal money where their mouths are by hiring an attorney and filing a suit in the Court of Appeals. It is their personal action and their personal funds that they have put on the line, not mine and yours.
- The most revealing part of the Commissioners discussion on the suit came when the usually clueless Robin Frazier commented that the three delegates who are offended by the redistricting have wanted Carroll County Government to file this lawsuit because they did not want to personally pay for the costs out of their own pockets.
- The Commissioners are using public treasury funds to satiate their personal political ambitions. Significant staff time and funds will be spent if the Commissioners proceed to use the office of the County Attorney to sue. Senator Getty's knowledgable estimate is that a suit in the Court of Special Appeals will run into hundreds of hours and costs between $20,000 and $30,000 at a minimum if staff attorneys are taken from their usual duties to stand before a Master and / or court. He cited a recent example when the Republican Party sued the State and the cost exceeded $200,000 in legal fees.
- Is the suit about winning a legal argument or about entrenching a political profile for these Commissioners? If there are citizens who feel wronged by the redistricting, they are allowed to file suit against the State, at their time and expense.The Office of the County Attorney is not an Office of People's Counsel and should not be maneuvered by politicians as acting as such.The County Attorney is being asked to serve the interests of 6 individuals rather than that of the the citizens of Carroll. They want to use taxpayers money to front the legal fees rather than dig into their own pockets, thus putting their money where their mouths are.
- The MD Attorney General may have the ability to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the County hasn’t the ability to sue the State.
The 3 Commissioners decision to use public funds for personal, political purposes should be reversed. I suggest that those outraged with this decision begin with telling Attorney General Gansler and also sending messages to each of the Commissioners. Please be aware that Commissioner Shoemaker voted against the lawsuit; Commissioner Rob’em Frazier recused herself from the vote using her usual clueless reason that she had not had time to read up on the matter.