An amendment to Emmitsburg’s town charter reduced residency qualifications from years to days for those running for mayor or commissioner, sparking a debate among the board before most members voted in favor of the change.
During Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, attorney Clark Adams walked the board and mayor through a number of changes proposed to the town’s charter. Some were minor edits for the sake of clarity, while others were more substantive.
Previously, a person had to be a resident of Emmitsburg for at least two years to run for mayor and one year to run for commissioner. After Tuesday’s vote, a candidate would qualify after 30 days of being an Emmitsburg resident. They also have to be a registered voter.
The town’s attorney, Leslie Powell, recommended the changes on the basis of constitutionality, according to Adams, who works with her. Town Manager Cathy Willets said that Powell, who was not present, in the past successfully challenged election residency requirements for other clients, leading her to recommend Emmitsburg reduce its residency qualifications to avoid such legal challenges.
“I think to err on the side of caution, where we won’t open ourselves up to be challenged during an election, these were the recommended changes,” Willets said.
“We do believe that if somebody challenged the year [qualification], they would succeed on that, which is why we made the change,” Adams said.
Though the commissioners agreed they don’t want the charter to be unconstitutional, they weren’t particularly happy about the change.
Commissioner Frank Davis expressed concern that college students living in the area could run the town for part of the year, theoretically.
“I trust what our legal counsel is telling us,” Davis said.
But, he added, “It’s opening the door. We could have people that barely know Emmitsburg ... come in here and run it.”
Commissioner TJ Burns mentioned the national news story of former football player Herschel Walker running for U.S. Senate in Georgia despite living in Texas. NPR reported Walker changed his voter registration to a house his wife owns in Georgia.
Commissioners debated whether the residency qualification should be 30 days or three months — the town’s legal counsel suggested 30 days for commissioners and three months for the mayor — while expressing they didn’t like either option. Commissioner Joseph Ritz III suggested the mayor and commissioner qualifications be consistent at 30 days if they must be reduced.
“I don’t think 30 days is enough for somebody brand new coming into town taking over what everybody’s doing,” Commissioner Vice President Clifford Sweeney said.
“We have a contentious item here,” Commissioner President Timothy O’Donnell said.
The board voted 4-1 to repeal the old charter and adopt the new one, with the residency qualification altered to 30 days for the mayor and commissioners. Ritz stood opposed.
If no referendum petition is brought within 40 days by town voters, the charter amendment becomes effective on the 50th day from the date the board adopted the resolution.
In other business, the board:
-Commended first responders and town staff for their response to Tropical Depression Ida, which flooded parts of town. Town Manager Cathy Willets said several manholes overflowed, the lake reached its spillway level, one of the pumps at the pump station may need replaced, and the community center/town office flooded in the basement.
-Acknowledged the receipt of funding that will go toward various park projects, including parking lot/road paving at Memorial Park, a concession stand and bathrooms at the community park and bleacher replacement at Memorial Park. Frederick County recently distributed state funding to municipalities, awarding Emmitsburg roughly $178,000, according to Mayor Donald Briggs. The town also received approximately $147,000 in Program Open Space state funds earlier this year for park-related projects.
-Reminded voters an election for the Board of Commissioners will be held Sept. 28 at 22 East Main Street from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Four candidates are running for two board seats. Voter information can be found at emmitsburgmd.gov.
-Issued proclamations to recognize National Recovery Month in September and Juneteenth on June 19.