A History of the Referendum

Referendum Subjects:

Last summer, comprehensive zoning was done, which is done approximately every 10 years by the County Council and signed by the County Executive. Over 400 zoning regulation and parcel changes were made in one bill over the course of just a few months.

Citizens Working to Fix Howard County (FixHoCo.com) took about a dozen of those controversial issues to a referendum (to have voters decide on them). Many issues concern lack of transparency in the changes. Issues taken to referendum included increases in density for several areas, (Fulton, Clarksville, Savage, Ellicott City, Highland), historic areas, farms, including the Rosa Bonheur Cemetery in Elkridge where pets and humans, including veterans, are buried (and set to be dug up), farming issues, and two issues on appeal from prior to Comp Zoning with much higher density at Normandy and a conditional use permission to convert a Clarksville residential property to a modern mortuary on Septic near residential wells. Referendum for the appeal issue properties was necessary to make sure existing appeals on the original rezonings remained viable.

REFERENDUM LOGISTICS and SIGNATURE Collection Intrusions

FixHoCo got the referendum form pre-certified by the Board of Elections and started collecting signatures. Signature collector volunteers, acting kindly, and on public property, were subjected to County Employees threatening to arrest them for being at the Howard County Over-50 Expo.

We also were told that our permission to solicit signatures on private property businesses was revoked when they received threats instigated by developers. Through all of this, FixHoCo prevailed and obtained enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot for the voters, having obtained nearly 7000 citizen signatures, in the short time allotted. Once enough signatures were obtained, the Board of Elections reversed its decision and refused to put the referendum on the ballot because now, suddenly, our forms were not supposedly legally sound after all.


REFERENDUM LITIGATION


Litigation ensued to get the referendum on the ballot and reverse the Board of Election's decision to keep this off the ballot, blocking the citizens' wishes.  The opposition, the developers, through their attorneys, filed lawsuits and cross-claims.  Over many months, we have experienced unusual and difficult rulings, procedural issues, missing notices, the lack of expedition in this matter, which is required by law, and several attempts to get the case to the appeal court in time, were met with opposition to keep things in Circuit Court in Howard County.

In an appeal, discovery is not typically done.  You cannot ADD TO THE RECORD on an appeal case, EVER, without specific permission.  You have to provide evidence of fraud or wrongdoing and the judge would possibly allow a deposition. In this case the only entity that has standing and is legally allowed to investigate a possible fraud is the Board of Elections and they did not.  Yet, the developers through their attorneys sought to depose most of the petition circulators in a video deposition, with no evidence shown that these people actually have any specific information as non-parties to the case, of specific problems.  It is simply an inappropriate fishing expedition. The judge should not have allowed it, so that decision is on appeal.  Also, discovery rules require an attorney to schedule depositions, but instead a date was arbitrarily given by Mr. Erskine and notices of depositions were filed, with no regard for vacations or schedules.   Notice was given that due to the appeal, the individuals would not have to come to their depositions.  Erskine's response to this information was first to threaten sanctions if people didn't show up, then to ask the court to have the sheriff take the individuals into court by force, to be deposed anyway, placing a warrant for arrest into a national system, which would require those out of the jurisdiction even to be hauled back to Howard County.  People who obtained only a handful of signatures were subjected to this harassment, also the elderly, foreign-born and infirm.

The Court of Special Appeals has heard the appeal on this case, and yet, Mr. Erskine continues to try to keep proceedings in Howard County.  He has now asked for SANCTIONS against the petition circulators and expects US to PAY developers’ attorneys’ fees!!! 

We are doing what we can to preserve referendum rights in this County now, and in the future.  We are entitled to our appeals on this matter, and we hope that the Court of Special Appeals and Court of Appeals acts timely in this matter and upholds the law appropriately. 

Lisa Markovitz
chair
Citizens Working to Fix Howard County