This story was corrected on March 17, 2014. An explanation of the correction is at the bottom of the story.
One of the five seats on the Cottage City Commission has been vacant for five months, but officials have repeatedly voted against the one person trying to fill it.
The former Ward 2 commissioner, Bridget Young, resigned in October for health reasons, and the town charter requires the remaining officials to appoint an interim commissioner until town elections in May.
On March 12, the commission was scheduled to discuss resident Donna Hayes’ interest in the position, but could not vote her in because Commission Chairperson Phyllis Robinson (Ward 3) opposes Hayes’ appointment and Commissioner Gary Styles (Ward 4) did not attend the meeting. The vote would have been the fourth since Jan. 8 on the appointment of Hayes, who has been a Cottage City resident for 35 years and is the only person currently willing to fill the position.
“They should have appointed someone to fill in until the May election,” Hayes said. “I don’t take it personally. I know that they are dysfunctional.”
The commission has been unable to make a decision about Hayes because the vote has been repeatedly split down the middle. The two commissioners who have voted against Hayes are Styles and Commission Chairperson Phyllis Robinson (Ward 3), while Richard Cote (Ward 1) and Patricia Gross, commissioner-at-large, have voted in favor.
Robinson declined to state her reasons for voting against Hayes even after Gross questioned Robinson several times at the March 12 commission meeting.
Cote apologized to residents and those attending the meeting after Styles did not appear. Robinson and Styles did not return requests for comment.
“I don’t know how to tell you how sorry I am to tell you we haven’t been able to approve anyone,” Cote said to the about 25 people in attendance at the meeting. “We still have one interested person, but it’s obvious that we’ve been stonewalled since October and we haven’t been able to progress. We’ve done this town an injustice and I want to apologize for that.”
Hayes said she plans to run for the vacant seat in May if she is not appointed before that time. Hayes said she was not originally interested in filling the Ward 2 seat permanently, but saw there was a need and planned to serve as commissioner until May.
“The problem with this has been that it is very difficult to get someone to run [for town office],” she said. “It has historically been like pulling teeth — mine included. I really did not want to run.”
Demetrius Givens, a Cottage City resident and former commissioner, said the lack of informed and engaged residents has led to controversies like the stalemate over the Ward 2 seat.
“The problem with our town is that you don’t have enough active participants regardless, which is why we have these clown shows all the time, this arguing and bickering back and forth,” he said.
Givens said he disagrees with Hayes on some points, but has no issue with her being appointed as commissioner. He said he believes she was voted down for personal reasons.
“It’s unfortunate, because for a town of that size, we should be more together, trying to get things done,” he said. “But it’s a power thing. People have their own personal agendas.”
If elected in May, Hayes said she hopes to revive the communication and unity that once characterized Cottage City.
“When I first moved here, [former commissioner] Bill Hall referred to [the town] as Mayberry,” she said. “It has lost that charm, and I would like to see it come back.”
This story was updated to explain why a vote did not take place on March 12.