Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Skulduggery in Oakland Mills?

Subtitle:  Open (Village) Covenants...Openly Arrived At

For the record, I am not stating that there was any illegal or otherwise nefarious goings-on involved in the decision by Alex Hekimian to not seek re-election as the Oakland Mills Representative to the Columbia Association Board of Directors, and the...presumably 11th hour... decision of current Oakland Mills Village Board Member Reg Avery to seek said post.

But secretive? Perhaps. Hence the use of the word "skulduggery" and the question mark.

Neither person was under any affirmative duty to disclose their electoral intentions in advance of the filing deadline.  Their actions, neither technically nor physically, prevented other candidates from filing for that position. 

However, as they say in the public relations business, the optics are bad.  Moreover, Mr. Avery's decision to run for another office, the Howard County Council, puts the Columbia Association...specifically the Board of Directors...in an awkward position.

In recent years, the CA Board in general (and certain members of the Board in particular) have adopted "transparency" as a watch-word.  A letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun from April 2013 touts Mr. Hekimian as the candidate of "openness and transparency." [The letter can be found here.]

So it does seem incongruous for such a person - someone committed to such values - to inform another person, privately and shortly before the filing deadline, "Hey, I am not going to run, but why don't you go ahead and put your paperwork in?" Because, from the outside, that looks exactly like what went down.

Would other candidates have run if Mr. Hekimian announced that he was not running for re-election? I am not a resident of Oakland Mills, but I am inclined to believe there would have been a contested race.

At this point, there is no apparent wrong-doing.  Even if there was a matter of collusion - which has not yet been proven - well, they played within the rules, right?  It might be neither just nor fair but politics is politics.   Not exactly what one expects in civic-minded Howard County, but "oh well," right? Or no?

So now Mr. Avery, as the sole candidate for the office, is poised to win election....however....

This brings us to the second major point of contention.  Mr. Avery is also a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Howard County Council (Second District).  The Columbia Association's Code of Ethics would seem to indicate that Mr. Avery, as a candidate for another office, would have to make a choice: either forgo your campaign for County Council between now and the election/the beginning of the new CA Board term, give up your quest to sit on the Columbia Association Board of Directors this time around, or apply for a waiver that would allow you to be seated.  However, that third option doesn't resolve the issue that the Columbia Association's Code of Ethics is intended to prevent: eliminating the possibility of a conflict of interest or the appearance of impropiety.

Mr. Avery's statements regarding the ability of other candidates to seek multiple offices (found in this article) are...disingenuous at best.  In those circumstances, the relevant state statutes permitted those candidates to run for two federal offices simultaneously.  Here, we have a case where the Columbia Association, a nonprofit service corporation that exercises quasi-public functions, seems to have clear rules in place that would prevent a member of the Board from running for another office.

Mr. Avery's interpretation of his attorney's perspective on the matter is not dispositive. 

If he continues with his course of action, running for County Council after being elected to the CA Board, he will require the Columbia Association Board of Directors to decide whether or not to seat him...or whether or not to grant him a waiver.  Beyond rewarding a decided lack of transparency, how will it look for the Board to ignore its own clear rules in such cases?  When others faced a similar situation, they did the right thing and stepped down from the Board. 

If elected and seated, how can Mr. Avery - with a straight face - extoll the virtues of transparency given how he arrived at the Board?

The answer seems to be clear: he should either vacate his current candidacy for one position or the other.  If he opts to give up his long-shot County Council race, he can take his seat on the CA Board (granted, he got there in a somewhat unseemly manner, but that matter can be addressed in a future election).  If he decides to end his candidacy for the CA Board, it appears as though there would need to be a new election for CA Rep from Oakland Mills.  Then, Mr. Avery can proceed with his quixotic and ultimately doomed District 2 campaign.

Definite shenanigans, which is too bad, given the energy that needs to be spent solving real issues.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.