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Rockville Council falls apart over Board of Election appointment

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Published on: Thursday, March 07, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ROCKVILLE - When the Rockville Council failed to vote on one of Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio’s nominations for appointment to the Board of Supervisors of Elections (BSE) last week, according to some city residents it exposed the schism which exists within the city’s governing body and affects the body’s decision-making ability.

During the Mayor and Council meeting on Feb. 25, Marcuccio made two nominations to fill vacancies on the BSE. The Council confirmed one of the nominations, David Berthiaume, with no conflict. Councilmember Bridget Donnell Newton made a motion to confirm the second nomination, Andrew Powell, but the motion failed when no other councilmember seconded it.

Councilmember John Hall said he sent an email to the mayor, and copied the other members of the council on it, requesting her to postpone the appointments to the board to allow an opportunity for consultation. Councilmembers Mark Pierzchala and Tom Moore supported the request, but Marcuccio decided not to remove the item from the agenda at which time Hall told her he wouldn’t participate in the vote.

“All three of us separately had communicated to the mayor that we could not support Mr. Powell and therefore we did not want him, or the mayor or ourselves to be embarrassed by having to vote it down publicly,” Pierzchala said. “(Marcuccio) chose to keep it on the agenda and so it played out as it did.”

According to the city’s appointment procedures, which are not in the city code, the normal process for appointments  begins when a citizen sends in an application. The Mayor and Council then receive a copy of the applicant’s letter and resume for review and comment. The applicant then attends a meeting for the board or commission to which he or she applied. Then, according to the procedure, the mayor may take into consideration any comments from the chairperson, city staff liaison and council members, but the mayor has final say on the appropriateness of a nomination to the Council.

Five citizens applied for the three vacancies on the BSE and the time for discussion, Marcuccio said, is at the meetings between the Mayor and Council on Monday evenings because of the open meetings laws.  

“(Hall, Pierzchala and Moore) are the ones who should be embarrassed,” Marcuccio said. “The truth of the matter is they were the ones that refused to even vote. They wouldn’t even let it come to a vote. They ought to be embarrassed.”

Moore said Marcuccio should’ve consulted council members outside of the open meeting. “The consultations would have taken place one on one,” Moore said. “We are allowed to do an unlimited number of one-on-one talking about issues. We never, ever, ever have three of us get in one room and talk about these things. It would have amounted to a series of lobbying by Councilmember Hall, Councilmember Pierzchala and myself to withdraw the nomination or somehow figure out a way so it wouldn’t come up for a vote the way that it did. That was just absolutely unnecessary.”

The Sentinel obtained an email wherein the chairperson for the BSE, Lois Neuman, provided the Mayor and Council with the board’s recommendations.  Powell was the board’s second choice out of the five candidates, according to the email, and Berthiaume, who was appointed unanimously, was not recommended by the board. Carol Millman, who was appointed unanimously during the March 4 meeting, was the board’s first recommendation.

Marcuccio said it’s possible there could be political motives in denying Powell a seat on the board of elections. Both Powell and Pierzchala were political opponents who ran for mayor in 2007 against Susan Hoffman and Hall was on the council with Hoffman.

“There’s a lot of little personal connections here that could easily be an influence,” Marcuccio said.

Personal feelings should be kept out of the appointment process, Newton said.

“I think it’s disappointing to me,” Newton said. “Appointments are not supposed to be political. They’re supposed to be done in regards to what’s best for the city.”

Pierzchala said the only reason he chose not to support Powell is because he believed the other four candidates would better serve the city. He also said this is the only time he has ever gone against a mayor’s appointment, and he gives deference to the mayor.

Hall said he just wanted more time for consultation while  Moore said the mayor never should have allowed the decision to come to a vote, because she knew beforehand the appointment would not have the votes.

In addition to running for mayor in 2007, Powell filed complaints to the BSE during the 2011 election regarding contributions made to mayoral candidate Piotr Gajewski’s campaign. Marcuccio won the 2011 mayoral election. Marcuccio said Powell supported “transparency,” and would be an asset to the city.

However, Moore said Marcuccio never should have nominated someone she knew wasn’t going to win. Appointments are a two-part process, he said, because the city code requires the Council confirm the mayor’s nomination. Additionally, Moore said Marcuccio has never consulted with him on any appointment. Pierzchala and Hall also said they have not ever been consulted by the mayor.

When asked if its normal procedure for the mayor to consult the Council, Hall simply said, “It should be.”

Marcuccio said the city’s code does not require her to consult the Council.

“The mayor appoints and then with the council’s consent or something like that, it goes there for confirmation,” Marcuccio said. “There’s nothing in any of our regulations that says I’ve got to get their permission ahead of time. They know the minute I know. They know who has applied. They get the same information I do. If they have a problem they should say so right then and there. Nobody said anything until it was put in the book.”

Marcuccio said there is a growing schism with her on one side and Pierzchala and Moore on the other side and it’s affecting the city’s ability to take care of important business.

 “I don’t want to fight with them,” Marcuccio said. “I have no interest in that whatsoever. Let’s do what’s best for the citizens, not for the guy who’s got a big business and lives in Potomac. You’ve got to think about it, this is a place that people call home.”

“This mayor and council are not any more contentious than previous ones,” Pierzchala said.

Hall, who previously served on the Council from 2001-2005, said the current council is more contentious than the one in which he previously served, but less contentious than other previous councils.

As the new guy on the council, Moore said he couldn’t speak of past councils, but sees the contentiousness between the Mayor and Council as a sign of transparency because they don’t have all of their conversations behind closed doors and then come out smiling.

“With the way we do it you get a sense of where people stand,” Moore said. “If we’re going to change our positions, and if we’re going to moderate, compromise and so forth, you’re going to see every bit of that. You’re watching the sausage getting made.”

As for Newton, she said the council looks a little bit like Capitol Hill, and “it’s sad.”

Powell, the man who was nominated by the Mayor and not nominated by the Council said his failed appointment was just one small piece in a much larger functional problem within Rockville’s governing body.

“It’s not just me,” Powell said. “I’m a symptom. This whole thing was just a symptom.  Even if I were removed from the Earth you’d still have a mayor and council that don’t work well together. You saw that on Monday night. You saw that over and over again prior.  They’re not getting along and they’re not conducting themselves in a way that’s getting the business of Rockville done. Or it’s getting done in a way that’s not transparent.”

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