When Hagerstown residents voted Nov. 6, roughly 70 percent favored amending the city’s charter to remove party affiliations from future city primary elections.
In light of the public’s support, the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday discussed a draft resolution to amend the charter with city attorney William Nairn.
During the meeting, city council members voiced concerns about the manner in which appointments would be handled in the event an incoming council member leaves his or her post over the next four years, something that was not addressed in Nairn’s original draft.
“The current charter provides that in filling vacancies they will be filled with persons of the same party,” Nairn said. “... That issue was not raised as a ballot question.”
There were differing opinions at the table about how the city’s charter should be changed to account for the public’s decision, specifically in regards to the new administration that will be sworn in Nov. 27.
“I think the public spoke loud and clear that they don’t want any part of partisan politics. Any part of it,” Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said. “And with the overwhelming majority, I think they’ve made it clear to us to take care of this problem.”
By a 3-1 straw poll, the city council requested that Nairn add a section to the proposed amendment resolution to allow for the sitting council to appoint the most qualified candidate to fill a vacancy, regardless of political party.
Joining Metzner, Councilmen William Breichner and Forrest Easton supported the idea, while Councilman Martin Brubaker was against it. Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood was absent.
Brubaker’s position centered on the fact that this past election was partisan. He said the replacement issue should be handled the same way for the next administration as it has in the past, but after those terms expire in 2016, the stipulation in the city’s charter would go away.
“I’m not being partisan about it,” Brubaker said. “I’m just trying to be consistent about it.”
Metzner disagreed, calling it “bad government” to not allow the elected body to appoint the most qualified individual — not limited to party affiliation — after the public’s strong support of the referendum.
“My opinion is that starting immediately that I would allow a vacancy to be filled by anybody,” he said.
Breichner said the only reason candidates run on a party is to get elected, but after that, it carries no real significance in municipal government, which is more focused on sound management than policymaking like on the state or national levels.
“The partisan politics is at this table,” he said during the council’s discussion.
The city council voted 3-2 earlier this year to place Question A on the ballot, with Easton and Haywood voting against it.
Easton has been opposed to the referendum since the start, saying this was the first issue that the council deemed “too important” to decide on its own — even more than the city’s proposed downtown multiuse sports and events center project that has been highly scrutinized by the public for months.
“If this was up to me, it would have never been on the ballot,” he said.
In any case, Easton said a ballot question that passes by a 70-30 margin shows the voters want it.
After Tuesday’s discussion, Nairn said he would prepare a revised draft resolution that included a provision to allow the city council to appoint whomever in the event of a vacancy without regard to political party.
It will appear on the city council’s regular session agenda Nov. 20 — the final meeting of the current administration — for possible approval.