Laurel Repeals Hotly Debated Election Law

City Council passes resolution to repeal contested election law.

The Laurel City Council last night unanimously approved an ordinance to repeal a highly contested election law.

The vote ended weeks of outcry from civil rights groups, including the NAACP and ACLU, after a complaint regarding the law was with the state’s attorney general’s office.

Opponents contended that the law unfairly banned residents with criminal backgrounds from running for elected office and would give the city’s Board of Election the power to determine who can and cannot run for elected office in the city.

Civil rights groups complained that the law was too vague and it was more restrictive than state law.  

But officials said they were only trying to protect the municipality from corruption that has  Prince George’s County government in the past.

Before the vote on Monday evening, Mayor Craig A. Moe thanked the local chapter of the NAACP for bringing its concerns to the city.

The repeal created a modified law that removed the provisions about criminal backgrounds but it now requires any elected official to leave office immediately after being convicted of a crime. The language would close a gray area in state law that allowed former county Councilwoman Leslie Johnson to weeks after to destroying evidence in a corruption case.

NAACP branch president Bob Ross, who spoke at the meeting, applauded the repeal and new ordinance as a model that should be adopted throughout the state.

"The community is changing now. We didn't look at it along racial lines," he said. “What we proposed could be a model for jurisdictions throughout the state."

A small but diverse crowd turned out for the public hearing, which was low key despite public outcry over the issue in other forums after the city announced it would . Other than Ross, only one Laurel resident spoke before the council.

Councilman Fred Small said the law was never meant to exclude minorities, an argument put forth by the NAACP.

“Minorities tend to shy away from anything that requires a background check,” he said. “The process [of the legislation] has its opportunity to work itself to the conclusion [reached] tonight.”

Still, some residents said the legislation could have had broader implications.

Eric Eagle, an officer with the Laurel Police Department, said the law would have led to other civil rights being curtailed.

“I’m on the side of right or wrong,” he said after the meeting. “It’s not about skin color, it’s about freedom. Every time we give up civil rights, it leads to losing more civil rights.” 

Bob August 10, 2011 at 12:25 AM
It's amazing what lengths some people will go to to get their way. Once on trial for murder, OJ Simpson's defense team pulled the same crap and he got away with murder. This entire event will make me think long and hard over who I "pull the lever" for in next year's election, and incumbent will fair the worst. The Council fell for the oldest, and most reprehensiable, trick in the book: Go our way or be branded a racist. The NAACP, for all the great work they have done in the past, has turned into nothing more than a hammer for the ACLU anvil when ever people wish to demand special attention. The only difference I can see between this goup and "the Sopranos" is that the Sopranos are Italian and more honest about who they are. Unlike Statewide and Federal elections, there is no press to vet our candidates. Will these candidates go after the Leader if they find their dirty little secrets? The background checks being done on the candidates are similar in scope to those being done for city civil employees (Police Officers are subject to far more indepth checks). If this is okay for the people who cut the grass, pick up the trash, work on the computers, act as life guards for our children, and do the myriad of other odd jobs that keep the city going, why is it not good enough for those who wish to command these fine folks? And, looking at the demographics of the city employees, why has the NAACP gone after the City for this?
main st. mike August 10, 2011 at 08:00 PM
I think its a bit more invasive than all that, the provision required that a candidate "authorize a review of all records concerning myself by a duly authorized agent of the Laurel Police Department, whether the said records are of public, private or confidential nature" from: http://www.laurel.md.us/sites/default/files/Candidate%20Information%20Packet%20-web.pdf What this means is that a candidate basically waives every right to privacy in the book. I'm not sure I'm ok with that. Let the voters decide, not some select group of the Mayors cronies.
John Floyd II August 10, 2011 at 08:28 PM
How can voters decide a candidate's worthiness to represent them if they are unaware of said candidate's criminal history, whether it involves a standard-issue Pee-Gee-style felony or a string of drunken accidents and traffic offences such as DC Ward 8's darling Marion Barry has managed to accumulate over the years? Perhaps the bit about prohibiting one with a criminal history from running for elected office was too much for some to accept, however there is absolutely NOTHING unreasonable, "discriminatory", or "racist" about requiring a candidate for public office to submit to the same sort of criminal background check as all municipal employees are required to do. You are electing those whose stewardship will lead our city through the hardest times since the 1930s, not hiring wait-staff or floor-cleaners. Pitifully, Laurel's Mayor and City Council chose to bend over and take it up the bum from two thug-like organisations with a long history of seeing racism in everything. If my vitriolic anger over this needless issue makes me a "racist", then so be it. I am bloody sick to death of being told by self-centred special interests that the condition of America's "downtrodden" ethnic minorities from events of two centuries is my fault simply by having been born a white Englishman. If the NAACP and ACLU don't fancy that, I really don't give a monkey's! It's time for Laurelites to solve far more pressing matters such as the rapidly-increasing shop-front vacancy rate on Main Street!
Bob August 11, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Mike - We should let the voter decide. But should we allow people to run, just so they have to be removed from office for past indiscretions that would have made them unfit to run in the first place? We do not have the information distribution system in place to fet the candidates like other elections do. Should we rely on some out of town group who came into our town at the invite of some rabble rousing malcontents hell bent on causing as much disinformation to be spilled about the administration to dictate our policies to settle some lie about "racism"? I for one would place my trust in people with a vested interest in the running of the City over some group from Baltimore or Washington just because they have a title. And if I was the Mayor, I would be greatly insulted by your insinuation that he would let his “cronies” reject the candidates based on anything except the qualifications.
John Floyd II August 11, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Bob's got it spot-on, however I would submit that "cronyism" has been a way of life in local politics since the City of Laurel was incorporated in 1870, just as it is in nearly every other small American city or town... and quite a few large ones too. It's the "nature of the beast".


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