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Petition falls short

Landlords group needed 39 additional signatures

Landlords group needed 39 additional signatures

December 11, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A landlords group's attempt to take to referendum a Hagerstown rental registration ordinance fell 39 signatures short of the number needed, Washington County Board of Elections Supervisor Dorothy Kaetzel said Tuesday.

Had the Election Board determined that the petition contained enough valid signatures to place the inspection matter before the voters, the city would not have been able to implement the ordinance unless it was approved at the polls.

The Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County needed signatures of 20 percent of the city's qualified voters, or 3,429 valid signatures, Kaetzel said.

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Election board staff found 935 signatures of the 4,325 on the petition to be invalid signatures, she said.

Of those, 746 were rejected because they were not city residents, 54 because they were duplicate signatures, and the rest for other reasons, Kaetzel said.

The Landlords and Property Owners Association had no comment on word the petition drive was unsuccessful, President Allan Johnson said. He referred questions to attorney Ed Kuczynski, who is representing the association.

Kuczynski could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The association can appeal to Washington County Circuit Court for judicial review of the petition count but it must do so within 10 days of Tuesday, said Roger Schlossberg, Election Board counsel.

Mayor William Breichner said Tuesday night he was pleased the city will not need to spend money on a special election.

The city now can proceed with plans to implement this spring the program that will charge landlords $45 per year per rental unit to finance regular inspections. City rental properties currently are inspected only in response to complaints.

The Landlords and Property Owners Association submitted the petition to the City of Hagerstown on Nov. 21.

The association collected about 1,000 signatures at voting precincts on Election Day, sparking complaints by some voters and Hagerstown City Council members.

The Washington County Board of Elections earlier Tuesday instructed Schlossberg to send a letter by Friday to the City of Hagerstown on its allegation the association violated state elections law when it collected signatures at polling places.

The association has denied any wrongdoing, saying it was acting with Kaetzel's approval when it collected signatures for a referendum on the city's rental registration ordinance.

Kaetzel has said she told an association representative that the petition gatherers could be in polling places provided they were not in the polling rooms or interfering with voters.

Some of the association members were inside buildings where voters were casting ballots on Nov. 5, Kaetzel said. When she received some complaints, she called the state Board of Elections and was told association members should not be within 100 feet of the polling places, she said.

The county Board of Elections decided later that day that association members could be within 100 feet of the polling places, but not inside, she said. Schlossberg has refused to detail the advice he gave the board.

The city complaint asks the county to prohibit petition gathering within 100 feet of polling places in future elections.

All five City Council members, who unanimously voted to adopt the ordinance on Oct. 22, had said they would have called a special election if the issue went to referendum. Members at Tuesday's meeting said they were pleased to hear the issue failed to get enough signatures.

The Hagerstown City Council and city staff say the inspection program is needed to improve the quality of housing in the city.

The Landlords and Property Owners Association says the ordinance unfairly blames all rental property owners for the actions of a few bad ones.

Under the program, properties will be inspected after a rental license application is submitted. Rental properties also will be inspected every three years or when there is a change in occupancy.

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