A group of Rock Hall residents, concerned over recent actions by Mayor Bob Willis, have cracked open the town’s charter and discovered that it contains no provision for recalling a public official. Members of the town council voted last month to have a recall ordinance drafted.
None of the charters for Kent County’s other four incorporated municipalities state anything about recalling elected officials. Some contain other provisions for removing an elected official from office, but Rock Hall’s does not.
Searching, at random, some of the charters listed on the Maryland Municipal League website, two municipalities were found with such provisions – Takoma Park and Salisbury.
Takoma Park requires a petition for recall to be filed, though the reason for requesting the vote need not be listed. If the recall is aimed at the mayor, 1,500 qualified city voters or at least 20 percent of qualified voters of the city must sign the petition. For a council member, it is 100 qualified ward voters or 20 percent of the ward voters.
In Salisbury, a recall election effort comes with comprehensive guidelines, including the required filing of finance reports for any monetary contributions to the “initiator’s” efforts. A petition also must state the reason for the recall.
Maryland does not have a recall provision in its constitution. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, only 19 states provide for the recall of elected officials. Virginia does not quite make the cut because it allows for recall trials, not recall elections.
The NCSL notes that Washington, D.C. does have a recall provision.
Like all elections, a recall comes with financial burdens. Since it is unlikely the Rock Hall council would annually budget for a recall, money would have to be taken out of rainy day funds to pay for voting machines essentially rented from the state, legal reviews and other administrative costs.
The real problem with Rock Hall’s charter is that it does not contain any guidelines for the removal of an elected official. The charters for Chestertown and Millington call for removal if the elected official has been convicted of a felony, been declared mentally incompetent in circuit court or missed 50 percent of council meetings in a six-month period.
Instead of working on a recall bill, perhaps Rock Hall’s attorneys should look into the charter’s lack of a provision for the general removal of an official on the grounds of nonfeasance or illegal activity. Maryland’s constitution could be used to fill in that blank in Rock Hall’s charter. The state constitution allows for the removal of an elected official at the state, county or municipal level for conviction of a crime.
It still makes sense for Rock Hall to outline provisions in its charter for removing someone from office, with inclusion of the attendance requirement. Fix that first, then give consideration to allowing for recall elections.