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Landlords' association issues apology

November 11, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The president of a Washington County landlords' organization on Friday apologized to anyone who was offended by the group collecting petition signatures at voting precincts on Election Day.

The city of Hagerstown plans to file a formal complaint with the Washington County Board of Elections about the group's actions.

At voting precincts Tuesday, the 200-member Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County collected about 1,000 signatures on a petition to take to referendum the rental registration ordinance approved by the Hagerstown City Council on Oct. 22.

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Their presence at the precincts drew complaints by voters and City Council members who considered the petition gathering inappropriate.

"We were not trying to bother anybody," association President Allan Johnson said Friday.

The group was following instructions of the Board of Elections office, he said.

If the group collects 4,000 signatures by Nov. 20, the city can't implement the ordinance until the public votes on it, Johnson said.

The association has about 2,000 signatures now, he said

Initially on Tuesday, some of the association members were inside the buildings where voters were casting ballots.

Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel has said she previously told association officials they could be in the buildings provided they were not in the polling rooms or interfering with voters.

When she received about 50 phone calls, including some complaints, she called the state Board of Elections and was told the association members should not be collecting petitions within 100 feet of the polling places, she said.

The Washington County Board of Elections decided the association members could be within 100 feet of the polling places but not inside, she said. When notified, the association members left the buildings, she said.

The city's formal written complaint, which will probably be filed Tuesday, will ask the board to consider the legality of the signatures gathered on the petitions Election Day and whether groups should be allowed to gather signatures close to polling places in the future, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

Kaetzel had no comment Friday.

Donna J. Duncan, director of the Elections Management Division of the Maryland Board of Elections, said Thursday that she received a few phone calls week from people complaining about the petitions but she has not received any formal written complaints.

Association members were told not to bother voters and to avoid talking about Tuesday's election, Johnson said.

"If any voter feels that he/she was misguided in any way into signing that petition we would like him/her to call our office at 301-745-3159 Monday, Wednesday or Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and we will gladly remove his/her name from the petition," Johnson said in a written statement Friday.

The association thinks the public should vote on the ordinance, which would charge landlords $45 a year per rental unit to finance regular rental property inspections. City rental properties currently are inspected in response to complaints.

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