County Council’s failures on redistricting commission
At the close of business on Friday August 27th, the Cecil County Council were continuing their efforts to block citizen participation on the Redistricting Commission. In response to the Council’s insistence to bar members of the Democratic and Republican Central Committee from serving on the Redistricting Commission Vincent Sammons, the Chairman for the Republican Central Committee and nominee to be the Republican representative for District 5 on the Redistricting Commission, has filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cecil County to compel the County Council to abide by the law in the Charter regarding the formation of the Redistricting Commission.
As previously reported, the Cecil County Charter requires a Redistricting Commission to be formed each year following the U.S. Census. Each party that earns 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. So long as those nominees meet the eligibility requirements to serve, the County Council is required by the Charter to appoint the members selected. The Council’s actions to prevent Mr. Sammons from serving on the Commission were centered on an objection that he was an elected official as a member of the Republican Central Committee, and is therefore ineligible under the provisions of the Charter. The full context of these events were dealt with in a previous article that explored the Council’s claims in greater detail.
Now, new information has been gathered that shows Mr. Sammons has informed the Council of the objections to his removal and has asked the Council to reconsider. In his role as Chairman of the Republican Central Committee, Mr. Sammons is responsible for selecting the individuals appointed for the Redistricting Commission. Ironically, this has made him the point of contact that the Council must communicate with regarding their decision for his removal. In email exchanges with the Council and the Council’s legal advisor, Mr. Sammons has provided Maryland Statute, Maryland Case Law, and other examples of Central Committee members serving on Redistricting Commissions throughout Maryland in an attempt to urge the Council to reverse their decision. Despite Mr. Sammons request for reconsideration, the Council has refused to yield, and gave Mr. Sammons an ultimatum that he must submit the new name of a District 5 Republican by September 1st. In light of this deadline Mr. Sammons had three options: withdraw his name, resign as a committee member, or seek judicial relief. With little time to secure counsel and mount a defense, Mr. Sammons chose to represent himself and challenge the Council’s actions in court. On Monday, August 30th, Mr. Sammons filed a lawsuit asking the court to compel the Council to follow the law, naming Council President Bob Meffley as the Defendant.
The ongoing saga surrounding the redistricting process is marred by intra-party politics and petty political grudges held by Councilman Meffley. Not only do his actions impede the redistricting process, but it also throws the credibility and purpose of the Redistricting Commission into question. The Commission is designed to be composed of individuals chosen to represent their districts and their parties independent of the elected office holders who are currently representing those districts, namely the County Council. If the Council is unjustly interfering in the formation of the Redistricting Commission, then they are also interfering in the redistricting decisions arrived at by the Commission. Not only does this circumvent the letter and intent of the law as outlined in the County Charter, but it also undermines the faith voters have in the ability of the Redistricting Commission to submit a fair proposal, free of influence from those currently holding office.
In addition to the irreparable harm done to the integrity of the 2021 Redistricting Commission, the Council’s actions are now beginning to have long term ramifications as well. The Charter requires that the Redistricting Commission is appointed April 1st, and the Commission’s plan and report are to be sent to the Council no later than November 15th. With April far behind us and November quickly approaching, the Redistricting Commission, once appointed, will have little time to complete a thorough assessment and put forward a well thought out proposal. This abbreviated timeline as a result of the Council’s actions will further weaken voter’s trust that the Commission was given the necessary time to complete their work. The result of the redistricting plan will be in place for another ten years, meaning the next five elections will take place with voters placed in, what are at this point bound to be hastily constructed districts.
In order to hold the responsible parties accountable, it is worth noting the timeline in which these events unfolded. The appointees of the Redistricting Commission on the Republican slate, which are the ones with which the Council originally took issue, were submitted in March in advance of the April deadline set out in the Charter. No objection to any of the names were noted until recently in August, when the Council was preparing the resolution to confirm the appointees in advance of the September Legislative Meeting. Mr. Sammons was contacted on August 16th with the notification that he was ineligible to serve on the Commission due to the fact he was a central committee member. After pushing back on this determination based on the fact that other central committee members from both parties were not also determined to be ineligible, the Council Attorney sent a notice on August 27th to both Mr. Sammons and the Chair of the Democratic Central Committee, Patricia Folk, informing them that they had until September 1st to submit alternate names. Providing three business days when the Council had since March to make these determinations is by all objective standards an unreasonable request.
The Council’s decision to drag their feet throughout the entire redistricting process has led to delays, a total lack of trust by the voters in our leaders and the redistricting process, and now legal action. While the final outcome of the pending judgement is not yet known, what is abundantly clear is that the members of the Council who supported these actions being carried out in the way that they were must be held accountable. Citizen participation is fundamental to our political process, and the decisions carried out by Councilman Meffley, if left unchallenged, would have set a precedent that discouraged individuals from stepping forward on the grounds that a particular Council member may object to their involvement at the last minute and arbitrarily prevent their participation with very little opportunity for redress. Community and political participation should be encouraged. The Council’s actions are having a negative impact on community involvement and the function of government. Should Mr. Sammons’ lawsuit fail, voters will have to remind our elected officials at the ballot box that Cecil County wants honest, fair, and transparent government.