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Council criticized for elections decision

January 27, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- A Hagerstown councilman stormed out of a meeting Tuesday after a member of the City Elections Board claimed the City Council was inhabited by poor decision makers.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner left the meeting for about two minutes after Paul Muldowney, a member of the City Elections Board, said the council's decision making was "poor, insincere, disingenuous and short-sighted" for not changing municipal elections to coincide with the gubernatorial ones.

As it stands, the city holds its primary election in March and its general election in May. The next municipal elections will be held this year.

Muldowney joined the other two members of the City Elections Board - Janet Bartels and Eve McGrory - to point out the flaws in the existing election system.

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McGrory told the council that the Washington County Board of Elections would administer the elections this year, but not in 2013 if the elections stayed the same. The resulting cost to the city would be about $125,000, she said.

Dorothy Kaetzel, director of the Washington County Board of Elections, said in October that county election officials were too busy to administer municipal elections in March and May. As a result, the county would abandon the city unless the election dates were changed to coincide with the gubernatorial ones.

Kaetzel said that during the gubernatorial elections, the state pays a majority of the cost, meaning the city's expense would be minimal.

McGrory said the City Elections Board isn't equipped to administer an election. If the council refuses to budge, full-time employees would have to be hired and the city would have to rent polling equipment, she said.

"The cost would be virtually zero if city elections were held simultaneously with state elections," McGrory said. "That's a bargain too good for the city to refuse."

Metzner said he supported the status quo because two City of Hagerstown Charter Review Committees - one in 1981 and the other in 2008 - recommended keeping the elections in place.

He looked at Muldowney and said, "When you tell (the council) we're disingenuous and don't have any sense, you're telling that to the (Charter Review Committee)."

Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said a vast majority of municipalities in Maryland hold their elections opposite gubernatorial ones.

The council then voted to adjourn, to which Muldowney sarcastically said, "That's a solution."

Muldowney said after the meeting that the council doesn't want to change the elections because voter turnout is lower and the incumbents have a better chance to get re-elected.

He said Metzner made a motion to adjourn the meeting because Metzner was "backed in a corner" and had no way out.

When asked to comment, Metzner said Muldowney's comments didn't deserve a response.

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