Democrats ponder filling vacancy

Committee must choose: stand-in or stand pat

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Residents and curious politicos eager to know what will happen to Charles County government after county commissioners' President F. Wayne Cooper (D) announced his resignation last week will have to wait a bit longer.

The Charles County Democratic Central Committee held a special meeting Tuesday night, at which members were scheduled to discuss either starting the process of appointing a replacement or allowing the commissioners to finish out the remaining five months of their terms with only four members.

Whether there would be a final decision on the matter, committee members could not say.

"If it was not an election season, the standard [procedure] would be three names forwarded to the governor for suggestions for permanent replacement. That's definitely something that will be discussed," said Vinny Ippolito, central committee member and District 4 candidate. "However, due to the election season, there is some talk to whether we really have to reach a decision or possibly allow the county to function with four commissioners, with the vice president serving as president until the election."

Chairwoman Virginia Benedict said the central committee would be turning to County Attorney Roger Fink to find out the options and guidelines before any action is taken. She said Gene Davies, a long-serving Democratic Central Committee member as well as a past chairman, vice chairman and treasurer, would be in charge of the research.

On Monday, Davies said from what he knows, there is no set chain of succession among the county commissioners: The vice president does not immediately become president if the president resigns.

In this case, commissioners' Vice President Edith J. Patterson (D) would continue to act as a vice president, but would take on Coopers' former responsibilities such as presiding over the commissioners' meetings, signing public documents and setting the board's agenda.

According to the state rules, Davies said, the committee would have to offer some kind of public notice and hold an open meeting with visible voting to recommend someone for the president's seat.

Those recommended names then would be sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

Davies said the special meeting called for Tuesday night "was not predicated" upon Cooper's resignation.

"I don't know what our position is going to be," Davies said.

Fink said that the remaining county commissioners are not part of the discussion about if they appoint someone to replace Cooper.

"The position of president [of the Charles County commissioners] will remain vacant until filled either by appointment by the governor or by election," Fink said last week. "It's up to the Democratic Central Committee whether they will be conducting that process."

Though he won't have a say in what the central committee decides, Commissioner Samuel N. Graves Jr. (D) said that, if there were more time before the election, he would be happy to work through the appointment process.

"Since it's so close to the election process and the citizens will have the opportunity to let them express their desires … I'm happy to keep the government moving forward and let the citizens make their choices at the polls when they go to vote."

Patterson, a former chairwoman for the central committee, said that "in light of continuity of services and management I would simply say let it stay the way it is."

Earlier, Fink told the Maryland Independent that the central committee does not have to nominate Cooper's successor before this fall's election, but if they choose to nominate Patterson for the post and it is approved by O'Malley, the committee then would have the option to appoint a replacement for Patterson's District 2 seat.