The Anne Arundel County Council ordered the vacancy of one of their own members’ seats on Tuesday, a few days before a councilman is set to begin serving his sentence in federal prison.
Councilman Daryl Jones (D-1st District), of Severn, was convicted in November after he pleaded guilty for failing to file 35 federal income tax reports between 2002-2006. He is scheduled to begin serving a five-month sentence at a federal prison in Williamsburg, SC, on Jan. 23.
There are no provisions in the county charter that allow the council to remove a councilman from office. However, there is a residency requirement in order to serve a district.
On Tuesday the council passed an emergency ordinance declaring Jones’ District 1 seat vacant, after asserting that his prison sentence equates to a change of residency.
In what became his farewell speech, Jones spoke to the audience before the issue came to a vote. He reviewed his accomplishments across the five years of his term as councilman, and also vowed that he would continue to fight for his district.
“My district and I have come through a lot, and I’ve worked very hard with my district to protect them,” Jones said. “I certainly want to inform and let everyone in District 1 know that in the same way that you have fought on every issue in dealing with District 1 … I will continue to fight, and be certain that you’re not disenfranchised through this process.”
Jones then recused himself from voting. He exited the council’s chambers and did not return.
Councilman James Benoit (D-4th District), of Crownsville, sponsored the bill that vacated Jones' seat. He said that the actions taken weren’t a reflection on Jones’ service to his district, and that this did not come easy.
“To say that it represents a low point in my time here is an understatement,” Benoit said.
County attorneys Jonathan Hodgeson and David Plymyer called the circumstance unprecedented in the council’s history, but reassured them that they believed their stance in this matter was defensible.
Jones and his attorney Linda Schuett, a former county attorney, tried to prevent the Tuesday vote through a restraining order. However, it was denied by an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge.
Plymyer said it was likely that litigation of this kind would continue.
“We’ve certainly been informed, and I don’t think it’s any secret, that the litigation will continue. The question is whether or not there will be an injunction to stop the county council from proceeding,” Plymyer said.
Plymyer stressed the importance of filling the vacant seat as soon as possible. He listed seven bills that came down to a single vote over the course of the past month in the county.
“A single vote can and has made a difference in this county council,” Plymyer said.
Benoit asked the attorneys whether their new stance on residency could be applied if a council member went on an extended vacation, or surgery, outside their district.
Hodgson replied that the length of that duration away from the council member’s district was up to the council to determine as they saw fit.
Before the council voted, they opened the floor to the public. Most came to support Benoit’s bill.
The lone detractor of the bill was school board member Eugene Peterson, one of Jones’ close friends. Peterson warned the council against politicizing the district seat. He asked them to remove Jones “the clean way” by amending the charter, through the charter amendment process which is currently underway.
“I believe that this bill is wrongheaded. I believe it is not in the best interest of this county,” Peterson said. “This rush to do something because of whatever is pushing it.”
The council approved the ordinance 6-0 with Jones having recused himself. Councilman John Grasso had a nearly identical bill set to go to a vote if Benoit's failed. He withdrew it after the passage of Benoit's legislation.
The search now begins for Jones' replacement, who must be in place within 30 days of the position being vacated.