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October 12, 2004

To Be Or Not To Be Three Years - More or Less!

Alan Imhoff

I watch with fascination as the current administration of the City of Frederick wrestles with the political football of just what constitutes adequate residency requirements for the office of mayor and for alderman.

On one side the keeper of agenda, the mayor, says that most of the scheduled meetings of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen are already too full to accommodate another major debate such as this.

The other side, some aldermen, says that to truly be fair to anyone who has ever given thought to running for the exalted offices of mayor or alderman ought to be cut a break in the residency requirement of three and one year respectively.

Naturally, both sides claim political posturing for the timing of this debate.

One side says three years is just fine to be the requirement, maybe five years might be better.

The other side gives all kind of examples of just how "unfair" these residency requirements are. One being used is that someone just happens to take up residence in the city just one day shy of the three years before the next election, that person cannot run for mayor until seven years later. My answer is, so what.

If we as a community set a standard that is accepted by the majority, that is the standard - period. I do not see or hear any gigantic groundswell from the electorate that what has worked for the past 50 years and more is detrimental to attracting or qualifying candidates.

Another argument being used is the "potential" challenge to the legality of the requirement, according to some interpretation by a staff attorney in the Attorney General's office. Based on that interpretation, to be safe, we should be like every other municipality in setting a residency requirement.

I do not know about you, but I am getting tired of hearing about "well every other city does" this or that. While it is appropriate to learn from other municipalities, are we not unique? Frederick is not Annapolis or Baltimore. Frederick does not have to be like everywhere else. If we are, then we lose what makes us different.

For a moment, let's take this qualification for public office to its logical extreme. To be politically correct in 2005, let's totally remove any length of residency.

Which bring me back to the requirements. Currently Section 26 Qualifications of Article III of the Charter only has the 3-year thing for "immediately preceding his election," "have or maintain his principal residence or domicile in the City of Frederick during his term" and must be a qualified voter. There is an implicit age requirement by being a registered voter, hence the 18 years of age.

To use an argument of those against the current length of residency, an example of this could be an individual from Montgomery County buys a house in the city to meet the minimum requirement, say one year, then spend only 183 days in it to meet State and Federal requirements, wins the election and uses their house in Montgomery County for the 182 days each year not required by law and does this as long as they are in office. Neat, huh!

So, in theory, we could have a 17-year-old run for office and only live in the city for 183 days a year.

So, why cannot we as a community say that there must be certain requirements?

The Constitution of the United States requires the president must be native born and 35 years old. Why not have local requirements that the mayor be 29 years old and an American citizen?

Further, if most jobs in this country require some schooling, why not require all candidates for political positions to have a high school diploma or GED?

The most often heard explanation of not requiring anything of our candidates is that we the voters can make logical choices from among the candidates. Granted there are very fine people in office with only a high school education, but why not state that as a requirement?

So, if The City of Frederick wants to change the qualifications for any public office, let's make them real: A qualified resident of the city, as defined by State and Federal laws, who has at least a high school education, or equivalent, is an American citizen, as defined by Federal law, and who has lived within the municipal boundaries for at least 183 days of the year (September to September) preceding the Primary Election.

Simple and easily understood that should weather legal challenges.

If people cannot handle these basic requirements they can go apply to "everywhere else," but The City of Frederick is just that, The City of Frederick, not "everywhere else."

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