Reporting Mike Hellgren
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — An emergency session for the Anne Arundel County Council, as they begin the process of possibly removing County Executive John Leopold from that job after he’s found guilty of two counts of misconduct against him.
Mike Hellgren reports.
There is a brewing debate over whether the County Council can force John Leopold out of office before he’s sentenced.
The Anne Arundel County Council took quick action less than 24 hours after County Executive John Leopold was suspended from office. They introduced a bill declaring his position vacant, paving the way for a new person to fill the job.
“We allowed the legal process to play itself out and now we’re at a point where we can make the decision and move forward as a county and get these distractions behind us,” said Derek Fink, County Council.
The next step will be for a super majority, five of the seven council members, to vote for it on Monday. But the County Attorney Jonathon Hobson—a Leopold appointee—believes the action is premature.
“They have no power. They have no authority to remove the County Executive or any other official convicted of a crime until the conviction is a matter of record. The conviction becomes a matter of record at the time of sentencing. Sentencing has not yet occurred in this matter,” Hobson said.
Hobson denies he’s making a power play for Leopold to return. But some on the council don’t buy it.
“To be getting that type of advice, given that the person who put him there is going to be the person we’re debating removing, it doesn’t sit well with me and I know it doesn’t sit well with the Bar Association who reviews the conducts of attorneys, especially public attorneys, very carefully,” said Jamie Benoit, County Council.
The county charter requires the position to be permanently filled in 30 days. It must be filled by a Republican because Leopold is a Republican. The term runs until December 2014. Some say now is the time to move on.
“And the person who comes behind this county executive–provided we remove him this week–is going to have a tall order in terms of regaining the trust of the employees and regaining the trust of the community,” Benoit said.
The county attorney says if the judge sentences Leopold to probation before judgment he could return to his old job.
The acting county executive is John Hammond. He previously served as chief administrator and has almost two decades of experience in Anne Arundel County government.