The latest story in the trials and tribulations of Anne Arundel County came last night. We all knew that the County Council was going to select a new County Executive. And we all knew that it was going to come down to a choice between Delegate Steve Schuh and Acting County Executive John Hammond.
Except it didn’t. At 10 am Friday morning, Laura Neuman will be sworn in as Anne Arundel County Executive.
Until yesterday, I had absolutely no idea who Laura Neuman was. With her background, she has an intriguing, unique, and inspiring story. She seems to have done fantastic work in her current job running Howard County Economic Development Authority. But the thing is that the County Council was required to select a Republican County Executive. And other than meeting the legal qualifications for serving as County Executive I know nothing, as a long-time Republican activist living in Anne Arundel County, about the political leanings or loyalty of my highest ranking Republican official.
What I do know is that she has made one political donation in her life. A $1000 donation. In December. To Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. A Democrat. Who is running for Governor. So you’ll excuse me if I have a tremendous sense of trepidation and uneasiness with the politics of my new, ostensibly Republican, County Executive.
No matter who was going to get picked as County Executive, however, was going to change one fundamental fact about the selection process; the vacancy selection process is broken. The Anne Arundel County Charter requires that the County Council serve as the only body to fill a vacancy for County Executive or among the members of the County Council. And as we have seen twice in the last year, the County Council often breaks down and has trouble selecting the best candidate instead of the most politically expedient one. In the case with the Council 1 vacancy, it took 106 ballots to break the tie between Peter Smith and Mike Wagner.
The County Executive vacancy became a gigantic mess of an affair. Both Councilmen Grasso and Walker intended to apply, but chose not to based on an ethics opinion. But Grasso intends to run for County Executive in 2014 anyway. Councilman Fink was business partners with Delegate Schuh until late this afternoon, when Schuch stepped down from the business in order to remove a potential conflict of interest. And that left the three Democrats who were in the position to select a candidate who was either the weakest candidate to run for re-election, or a candidate who was a registered Republican who was more sympathetic to their world. view. At this point, Laura Neuman could fit either of those criteria.
Is this any way to run a government?
The latest debacle in Anne Arundel County proves to me that enough is enough. It’s time that appropriate action be taken to fill vacancies, at the very least on the Anne Arundel County Council, by Special Election. We can no longer afford for County Government to get distracted and divided by the parochialism and opportunities for career advancement that inevitably take precedence when vacancies like these pop up. We must figure out a way to have an orderly succession to an interim County Executive and then towards a short election process (perhaps conducted solely by mail-in ballot) to allow the people the right to pick their County Executive.
No matter how the process unfolds from here, Anne Arundel County cannot afford to have another spectacle like this one…