Below is an update on the Petition Drive to bring to referendum the Charter Amendments passed by the Aberdeen City Council on May 8th, 2017. Here’s a video explaining the results:
Almost universally, the response that I got from people was surprise that it is legal to change the powers of the elected Mayor and Council between elections, and that the Council would take these steps without asking the voters to approve.
State law establishes the process for Petitions for Referendum needed for these kinds of Charter Amendments. In Aberdeen’s case, that means 20% of about 10,000 registered voters need to sign a petition.
This is a very high hurdle to achieve on any issue. This fight was something that I felt obligated to take on, given that I was elected to stand up for the voters of Aberdeen.
By the 40th day, June 17, 2017, I had received just about 1,178 petitions signed and returned to me– mailed to my house, dropped off on my porch, at my office, and at City Hall 🙂 That’s just about 30 per day!
Some of these, of course, will not be valid registered voters of Aberdeen– some folks who live outside of town limits signed, and some people who haven’t registered to vote yet in Aberdeen signed too.
To everybody who signed the petition, thank you. Thank you to all of those who circulated the petition in their neighborhoods. And thank you to all of those who called me and wished me well on the effort.
On Saturday, June 27, I mailed the petitions to City Hall at about 4:45PM. After I submitted the originals, another 93 or so came in– that’s a total of about 1271 signatures!
This is short of our legal requirement of 1,990, so this issue will not be placed on the ballot at this time. The Charter Amendment as adopted by 3 members of the Council on May 8 will take effect on June 27, 2017.
However, this number of signatures represents a huge portion of the voters in Aberdeen elections.
In 2015, when I was elected with a total number of 602 votes, only 1788 votes were cast for Mayor. In that same election, the City Council Candidate who received the most votes got 899 votes.
That number of signatures, 1271, is impressive to me because compared to voting, it’s a lot of work.
People had to get the petition, sign the petition, and return the petition. The intensity of support for this referendum effort is impressive.
So, of the people who voted in the last Aberdeen municipal election, that is, 1799 voters, 1271 signed and returned this petition. That’s a number of signers equal to 70.65% of the number of voters who voted in the last Aberdeen election.
That’s more than 2 times the number that voted for me. This issue goes beyond support for me as the Mayor, or support for the Council– it’s bad policy to change the form of government between elections, and Aberdeen voters understand that.
That number of signatures, 1178, is almost 1.5x the number who voted for the highest vote-getting Council Candidate.
It’s clear that the voters of Aberdeen want to have a say in these kinds of changes to the City Charter.
It’s clear that the voters of Aberdeen have a problem with a simple majority of the City Council changing the form of government between elections.
I look forward to working with the City Council to fix the action that was taken on May 8.
Going through this referendum process has also made me aware of a problem that I promise to fix– the process for filing a petition to referendum is confusing, murky, and requires legal expertise to understand.
It took me the first 10 days after May 8, when the Council adopted the Charter Amendment, to put together a petition in a format that would be legally permitted. This delay is unacceptable for future petitioners of the City government.
I promise that the City will produce a template for future petition efforts– it is a fundamental right of the voters of Aberdeen to be able to petition the government, and it’s crucial that the City government makes the process transparent and clear. We will get this done.
On another front, I plan to lobby our state legislature to change state law to permit municipalities to locally control the process of referendums and changes to the form of government.
State law requires a referendum for changes to the State Constitution and County law requires a referendum to change the County Charter.
It’s unreasonable that the kinds of changes to the form of government that were adopted by the City Council on May 8 can be done without a referendum, and if we have to change state law to prevent these kinds of things happening to the other 150+ towns in Maryland, that’s what we will do.
As always, you can call me on my cell phone anytime at 410.357.1234.
So, thanks again to all of you who supported the petition effort, and have a beautiful day!