After an exhausting 2020 election cycle that left even the most ardent political spectators feeling fatigued and with the next election over a year away, few County residents are focused on the upcoming political happenings of 2022. Despite the seemingly distant events that will unfold in advance of County residents next visit to the polling booth, the County redistricting process is already underway, which will have a major impact on the 2022 race. As required by the Charter of Cecil County, the County Council is required to form a Redistricting Commission each year following the U.S. Census. The Redistricting Commission is responsible for submitting a plan that outlines residency districts, along with a report explaining it, no later than November 15th of the year before the plan is to take effect. While redistricting is an inherently contentious process, this Redistricting Commission has been faced with last minute obstacles imposed upon them by the County Council, and Council President Bob Meffley in particular.
In accordance with the County Charter, each party that earned at least 25% of the vote share for County Executive is entitled to nominate five members (one from each district in the county) to serve on the Redistricting Commission. As long as those nominees meet the eligibility requirements to serve, the County Council is required by the Charter to appoint the members selected. These names are to be submitted by the Central Committees of the qualifying parties (in this case, Democrats and Republicans) and confirmed by the Council no later than April 1st. That date has come and gone, and while the Commission was established by the Council in March, the composition of the Commission has recently been thrown into question.
On August 17th, 2021, the Council proposed the resolution to appoint members to the Redistricting Commission, which will be voted on during the next legislative session on September 7th. While the Democratic slate was full, the Republican slate had two noticeable absences for District 4 and District 5. Sources familiar with the matter have provided documents that show the circumstances surrounding those vacancies. The District 4 nominee lived outside of the district, making her ineligible for appointment. The District 5 nominee, however, was removed under the pretense that he was an elected official as a member of the Republican Central Committee and was therefore ineligible for appointment, because the Charter prohibits elected officials from serving on the Redistricting Commission.
The grounds on which the District 5 nominee was blocked is legally dubious, and definitionally absurd. The Republican Central Committee, like all parties’ central committees are not a public body and are certainly not officers of the Cecil County Government. Members of the central committee are selected by the members of that party, not by the voting public. Furthermore, the County Charter doesn’t list any position in a political party as a public office, which is why the conduct, function, and members of the committees are not bound to the same laws as County Officials. Central committee members are party officers, not public officers. Therefore, a central committee member although “elected” by their respective party would not fit the definition of an elected official in the County Charter any more than a CEO elected by a board of directors, or a deacon elected by a congregation would. The provision in the County Charter is designed to prevent public officials from appointing themselves to positions that give them control over issues that affect their current office.
Definitions of elected officials aside, the actions taken by Councilman Meffley appear to be political retribution rather than an honest, good-faith effort by our government to enforce a fair composition of the Redistricting Commission by following their best interpretation of the law. For one, other nominees listed on the resolution for appointment are also members of their party’s central committee. This means that Councilman Meffley is either targeting the District 5 nominee, or has failed to do basic due diligence on those nominated. Secondly, sources shared that the decision to disqualify both members were received on August 11th. The Republican Central Committee was then given three days to appoint new members in advance of the legislative session where the appointments were to be confirmed. Not only is that an overly burdensome timeframe, but it also made it all but impossible to mediate the dispute over the District 5 nominee before a decision was needed.
In light of the obvious double standard of barring one nominee from serving on the Commission on the grounds he is a central committee member and not others, sources share that the Council has removed the other nominees who currently sit on a central committee. However, the initial actions of Councilman Meffley are telling. The nominee from District 5, Vincent Sammons, is an outspoken anti-corruption advocate in the County. Many of Mr. Sammons targets are those with whom Bob Meffley has close ties. This incident, paired with past actions taken against Mr. Sammons by Councilman Meffley, reinforces the notion that Mr. Sammons removal from the list of nominees was politically motivated.
Whether the one-sided actions taken by the Council were motivated by malevolence or are the results of incompetence, speculation can only answer. Regardless of intent, the actions taken are directly blocking eligible individuals from serving on the Commission in contravention of the Charter, and are indirectly disenfranchising Republicans who may not receive the representation on the Redistricting Commission that their party chose, potentially affecting the results of redistricting. Councilman Meffley’s actions have exposed the County to possible litigation, should the determination of the status of Mr. Sammons eligibility be taken to the courts. If pursued, the County’s limited resources will now be diverted to legal costs, and the work of the Redistricting Commission could be delayed. If not challenged, Councilman Meffley will have successfully blocked those within his own party from serving on the Commission and speaking up for voters throughout the redistricting process.