Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Council approves election task force

Group asked to review all city elections procedures

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The Bowie City Council is forming a task force to evaluate and make recommended changes to the city’s election procedures and rules — after an expensive mayoral race last year raised questions about how the city elections are financed.

At its Jan. 22, the council unanimously approved a resolution to create the 15-member task force. The council hopes to adopt any proposed changes before the next city election cycle begins in 2009.

The city’s campaign finance rules became a source of debate last summer when then-District 4 Councilman and mayoral candidate D. Michael Lyles said he had a goal of raising $100,000 in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Mayor G. Frederick Robinson in the November election.

City Council members voted in July to adopt voluntary monthly campaign finance filings for council and mayoral candidates. City election law requires only two campaign finance reports – with the first being 14 days before the election.

Although Lyles did not reach his fundraising goal, the race turned out to be the most expensive mayoral race in the city’s history, with both candidates raising a combined $60,000.

Upon his retirement in November, longtime District 2 Councilman Jack Jenkins implored the new council to address the campaign finance laws in the city.

‘‘The local political process is at risk of being hijacked by external high rollers,” Jenkins said.

The resolution asks task force members to address campaign finance reporting requirements, limits on campaign contributions, sanctions for not complying with campaign finance rules, and ‘‘any other element of the elections process the Elections Task Force feels appropriate to review.”

The task force will be appointed by council members – two by each council member and three by the mayor. They will have nine months to complete their work and will be asked to provide an interim report after six months.

The city hopes to have the committee appointed and beginning their work by the end of February.

The committee was also asked to gather information from other cities on how they handle election procedures per a request from Councilwoman Geraldine Valentino-Smith (At-large).

Councilman Todd Turner (Dist. 3) suggested the group look at the issues of term limits on city offices and the length of the terms.

‘‘It’s something they can at least review and maybe make a recommendation to change and if not, that’s fine,” Turner said.

Councilman Isaac Trouth (Dist. 4) said the city should try to increase its turnout in the city elections by possibly having them in the same years as presidential elections.

However, Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said the city has always had off-year elections ‘‘to keep it a strictly nonpartisan election.”

Candidates are permitted to spend up to $2,500 of personal money on a campaign, and donors can give up to $1,000. Donors do not have to live in the city to contribute.

In other business, the council approved the site plan for three Marriott hotels, which are planned for a 10-acre site on Science Drive on the Melford property. The three hotels will have a total of 362 rooms. The site plan is scheduled for a hearing before the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission on Feb. 28.

E-mail Megan King at mking@gazette.net.