Monday, September 07, 2009

A Very Special Referendum Indeed

So what’s going on? I’ve been away.

I heard that there’s a plebiscite scheduled for our fair city tomorrow, September 8th, 2009 at the Phelps Center. I’ve included directions to the Phelps Center because I understand that there are some folks who live in Laurel who don’t know where it is. Just kidding, please don’t sue me!

The Honorable Ed Ricks, former councilman, awesome short order cook and all around good guy was asked by the city to investigate painfully depressed voter participation in Laurel. The last city election in 2008 had only a few hardy souls willing to participate in an uncontested election and the city council thought it was time to see what could be done to improve participation.

Ed’s committee got to work, solicited public input and then wrote a report. The council decided that some of the committee’s recommendations had merit, so a referendum was scheduled to see what the voters thought about seven simple questions related to voter turnout.


But things are rarely as simple as they first appear in Laurel. This referendum tomorrow is not really about increasing voter turnout anymore is it? That simple turnout issue may have been hijacked.


Former city councilman Mike Sarich and the leadership of the Laurel Boys and Girls Club have once again joined forces. They are trying to turn this from a referendum on increasing voter participation into a vote of confidence on the city’s elected leadership itself.


Mike Sarich has long had strong feelings about the need for a second polling place in Ward 2. While a councilman last year, Mike wrote a letter to his colleagues cautioning them that the lack of a second polling place may become a legal issue. Much censuring and arguing ensued. The city’s lawyer, Robert Manzi, wrote an opinion saying that Laurel was compliant with existing laws. After this upcoming referendum was announced on June 8th, Mike filed suit to stop it, and while the injunction was denied, his lawsuit and another are continuing in the courts.


It also appears that that the LBGC sees this referendum as a path towards influencing the council to increase the city’s financial support of their club. The club hosted a rally organized by the Prince George's County political watchdog group People for Change who are demanding a second polling place in Laurel.


So we have possibly riled a few new folks into voting in a city election. That’s a good thing. However, please remember that this referendum tomorrow is not asking any voters to decide on a second polling place or if the LBGC should be given more city money, or if the mayor or the city council should be removed, or even if pit bulls make good pets.


Regardless of how we vote tomorrow, those questions are for another day.


(cartoon courtesy of xckd.com)

8 comments:

KAL said...

Rick: good posting. I too want to urge people to remember to think about the issues when they vote. Best, Karen.

Angela said...

Rick,

As a citizen of Laurel, and a concerned one at that, I have several comments on your post.

First of all, not all concerned about tomorrow’s referendum are tied to the Boys and Girls Club. I am not part of the leadership, nor do I have children there. But I am active in the community, visiting local elementary, middle, and high schools on a regular basis to speak about engineering and success after school. Humor me for a moment, and please consider that it is the values held by those involved in the community that make them concerned about the referendum, NOT their affiliation to local organizations (though those same values are what drives them to be leaders in those organizations). I would suggest that the “leadership of the Boys and Girls Club” is concerned not because of the LBGC but because they care about Laurel.

This brings me to my second point- the referendum and why everyone should be concerned. You spelled it out yourself- the committee was asked to look into increasing voter turnout. Why then, did Mayor Moe and the City Council choose to a) ignore the one question regarding availability of poling places, b) chose to include two questions having NOTHING to do with voter turnout (their salaries) and c) limit the poling place for this opinion poll to one location? And I use the term “opinion poll” quite seriously, for though the resolution may say “binding”, another round of legislation is required to turn any of these topics into law, and the City Council can easily do anything they want at that time.

So yes, some concerned citizens are fighting the referendum for what it represents- a half-hearted attempt to get citizen’s inputs by limiting the number of citizens who can express their opinion. By all means, everyone should go out and vote tomorrow! But bloggers and reporters should refer to community activists as just that, not by associating them with completely unrelated issues.

Mike Sarich said...

Rick,

My lawsuit has three basis (none of which have anything to do with being a member of the LBGC)

1. In Maryland, you are allowed to have special referendum elections between 40-60 days after the resolution authorizing them passes. Laurel is attempting to hold an election on the day after Labor Day (unprecedented in the state) and more than 90 days past the date of the enabling resolution. This is illegal.

2. The law says that you must have specific language that voters either accept in whole or reject in whole. (This should explain why you've likely never seen wording as tortured as you'll be presented with tomorrow.) Laurel is attempting to use vague, contradictory, and in most cases legally meaningless language for their ballot. This is illegal.

3. The Maryland Constitution forbids "straw votes." In Maryland we expect our elected officials to lead and not waste tens of thousands of dollars on what is in essence, opinion polling. The precise term for these acts are an "improper delegation of legislative authority" in laymens terms its basically "Do your damn job legislator(s)" Because the Constitution and the general public laws of Maryland do not permit this "buck passing" This is yet another ground upon which this election is plainly illegal.

Just to clarify, I filed this suit because I'm tired of seeing my tax dollars wasted. While I am a member of the LBGC Board, I am also a parishioner at St. Mary's, a Terps fan, and a member of the American Red Cross. None of those affiliations have a thing to do with the filing of my suit.

Outrage at politicians looking for political cover for 67% raises and 14 month extensions are the basis for my concern.

You do make an interesting point though, this election isn't about adding another polling place. Why not?

Additional Polling Places is the single recommendation that Ed's group made and the Mayor & Council ignored.

You can draw your own conclusions; however, one thing is clear, the Mayor and Council were presented with this recommendation, had a golden opportunity to bring this to the community, and failed.

Carol D said...

My turn. Mr. Sarich's comments have nothing to do with the election and everything with his hate and contempt for Mayor Moe.

If he had attended ay of the meetings, or read the City Code and Charter, he would know 1) that the Code already allows the City Council to schedule additional polling places, and 2) there was public testimony AGAINST a second polling place for the referendum. At no time in 6 years on the Council did he do ANYTHING for a polling place. Everyone, including Mayor Moe, has said there will be more than one polling place in the next candidate election.

I appreciate the opportunity to vote on the choices. I will vote for early voting, November elections, and against ward only voting. I will vote against salary increases and four year Council terms.

I will vote FOR the extension and hope everyone else will. It is imperative to this town's future to keep Mayor Moe, Gayle, and Mike for as long as we can.

Regardless of your viewpoint, get out and vote tomorrow!

Rick Wilson said...

Karen: Thanks and a shout out to your blog, kalibrations.blogspot.com How was France?

Angela: Thanks for commenting. I get it. Not everyone must be a club member to be concerned about voting turnout in Laurel. Fair enough

Mike: Welcome back Maverick! It's good to have these discussions with you again. I'm not a fan of lawsuits, but everyone has the right to seek relief via the courts. As you know, I've been watching voting patterns in Laurel since in 1980. In 1991 Karen and I recommended a second polling place in Laurel. I should have brought this legislation forward during my term in office. I'm sorry I did not. But now we are engaged in a worthwhile discussion. We will see what the people think tomorrow night.

Thanks to all for clicking here. Is clicking the correct verb?

Anonymous said...

Rick,

Great posting. You always cut through the bull****.

Angela, regarding your comment about not being tied to the Boys and Girls Club. Are you not the Angela engaged to Mike Sarich, Vice President of the Laurel Boys and Girls Club?

Anonymous said...

and that's relevant how?

Anonymous said...

As a citizen of Laurel I am very concerned about the fact that this group of elected officials may pull off extending their terms for the second time. I find it laughable that elected officials are very concerned about quote voter turnout. Really get serious, changing voting to odd years, extending terms, raising salaries- what does that have to do with increasing voter turnout?

Add another poll in the next local election(whenver that may be)and I guarantee more voters will walk to the polls.

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