PERRYVILLE — While the mayor and commissioners unanimously approved changing the terms in office from two years to three, and set the schedule to make that happen, the board also unanimously agreed to table the proposed charter amendment, which would have canceled uncontested elections.
All the commissioners agreed that two years is not enough time to get things done, especially for that first term as an elected official.
“It’s a big learning experience for me,” said Commissioner Tim Snelling, who was appointed in August when Ray Ryan stepped down little more than a year into his fourth term.
“It takes some time to learn this job.”
Commissioner Robert Taylor, while agreeing with the need for the longer term, did not agree with the plan to reset the schedule.
“I’d rather not see the existing seat [for the mayor and two of the four commissioner] extended one year,” Taylor said.
To make the new three-year cycle work Mayor Robert Ashby’s term, which is set to expire in May, would serve through May 2021. The seats held by Commissioners Taylor and Snelling would go to election this year, but the term would end in 2023 instead of 2022. The mayoral contest would stand alone and go to election in 2021. The winner would serve through 2024. The seats held by Commissioners Michelle Linkey and Pete Reich would also get a one-year extension and be on a 2022 ballot.
Linkey said she understands Taylor’s reticence about extending the term of an incumbent but said this was the only course of action.
“It would take so long to reset it,” she said of alternatives. “This is quicker.”
However the debate over approval of a charter amendment that would cancel uncontested elections found Taylor continue to voice his opposition, restating his belief that elections — even uncontested ones — are mandated.
“Even though we save $3,000, in the future a person could be on the board without having received a single vote,” Taylor said. “The thought that ‘these people voted for me’ is easily worth $3,000.”
He suggested language be added that uncontested elections are only canceled if those seeking election are incumbents. Calling it a “poorly written amendment,” Reich said he suddenly saw the picture Taylor was painting.
“It never entered my mind we could have two people sign up and become commissioners without getting a single vote,” Reich said. “That’s a bad thing for the town.”
Snelling pointed out that other towns and cities are doing likewise. Ashby added that Havre de Grace is one of those who have canceled uncontested elections.
“And they’re four times the size of us,” Ashby noted.
That did not change Taylor’s mind.
“I can’t help if other towns decide to do bad things for their democracy,” he said.
Linkey suggested the amendment be amended to add language that changes the method of balloting in the case of an uncontested ballot.
“We could have paper ballots instead,” she said, referring to the suggestion made by Rising Sun Commissioner Dave Warnick when that town also debated no contest elections.
“The bulk of the cost is the machines themselves,” Linkey said, adding that with the ballot box the only cost is staffing and printing paper ballots.
“I think that’s a good compromise,” Reich said.
Perryville’s board in 2008 voted to make the move to the electronic machines, which were first used in the 2009 race.
From the audience, Tim Myers offered to build a ballot box for the town.
“I will build you an oak box with a lock on it,” Myers offered.
The board voted last month to eliminate write in votes. If no one contests the vote it becomes law in February. Myers said he is among those that wants to keep the write in.
“It allows the commissioner (on the ballot) to do anything they want to,” Myers said. However the write in allows for last minute dissent. “I can say, ‘I don’t like that,’ and launch a write in campaign.”