By ALLISON BOURG
The Capital of Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — It’s up to Daryl Jones whether his spot on the County Council remains vacant while he’s in prison.
There’s nothing in the County Charter to force the District 1 councilman to give up his seat, despite his conviction for failing to file dozens of federal income tax returns.
Jones, a Severn Democrat, was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to five months in federal prison.
Observers said that this appears to be the first time the council has been faced with this situation.
The first county executive, Joe Alton, went to jail after leaving office in 1974 for conspiracy to commit extortion as part of a scheme to take kickbacks from contractors. He served seven months in federal prison.
“That’s the only kind of criminal mischief thing I can think of,” said Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel Community College and director of its Center for the Study of Local Issues.
The Jones situation does have parallels to an ongoing case in Prince George’s County, where Councilwoman Leslie Johnson resigned last summer over federal corruption charges. But that’s about it, Nataf said.
“I’m a little surprised that there isn’t some ineligibility (to serve) that comes with being convicted of a crime,” Nataf said.
In August, Jones pleaded guilty to willfully failing to file 35 personal and business federal tax returns — a misdemeanor — from 2002 through 2007. He owed the federal government more than $108,000, which he has since repaid. He still owes more than $27,000 in interest and penalties, prosecutors said.
Jones also must serve six months of house arrest, as part of a year of supervised probation, upon his release from prison.
He has not said if he will resign the council seat, which pays $36,001 per year and includes an option to participate in the pension and health care plans.
The protracted absence of one member of the council also could create other complications.
“Can (the council) run on six? That’s an even number,” Nataf said. “It would be a really awkward scene.”
In other words, there would be no one to break a tie vote.
If Jones does resign, the remaining six council members have 30 days to appoint his replacement, who would serve out the remaining three years of his term.
“I’m confident that Councilman Jones will do what’s right for the citizens of District 1,” councilman Derek Fink said.
The Pasadena Republican stopped short of saying that Jones should step down. But he added that officials should re-evaluate the County Charter and see if there’s a better way to deal with these situations.
If the county executive is convicted of criminal wrongdoing, he can be ousted from office, Fink said. Not so for council members.
“There is no mechanism,” Fink said.
Council Chairman Dick Ladd, R-Severna Park, said this week that the charter appears to allow a council member to remain in office while serving in the military. There’s a provision that a service member can be absent for 180 days and that absence is not considered a vacancy that needs to be filled, Ladd said.
“The only way you can interpret that is that for every member who’s not a veteran, it’s less than 180 days,” said Councilman Jamie Benoit, D-Crownsville.
Benoit said that whether the charter needs to be rewritten to address situations like Jones’ “is a question worth debating.”
“It’s just unfortunate,” Benoit said. “It’s not my business to tell Daryl to resign. But he’s a conscientious, honest guy, and he’ll make the right decision.”
Yet others spoke out in support of Jones.
Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, a former county councilman, took to Twitter to declare his public support for Jones, calling his sentence “excessive.”
“Every case has its own circumstances,” said Cohen, who declined to speculate on what might happen to the council. “You have to take that into consideration . Daryl’s failure was not a failure of public office. It was a personal failure.”
Cohen served with Jones on the council from 2006 until 2009, when he was elected mayor. The former probation officer said there are two types of offenders: those who commit crimes with malicious intent and those who just make bad decisions.
Jones falls into the latter category, Cohen said.
“The intentions make a difference,” he said.
But it’s tough to say whether constituents would be so forgiving, Nataf said.
“He’s term-limited, so he might have run for county executive,” he said. “But I just don’t know where he goes from this.”
Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://www.hometownannapolis.com/
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)