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Bevins violated county charter according to Inspector General

Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins. Credit: Lauren Watley, Baltimore County
Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins. Credit: Lauren Watley, Baltimore County

Baltimore County’s Inspector General said Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins violated the county charter by moving out of her council district.

The charter requires a council member who does that to leave office. But Inspector General Kelly Madigan said in a report released Tuesday the charter has no provision to enforce that violation.

Madigan said, “There doesn’t appear to be an enforcement mechanism so it’s kind of like a violation but not necessarily ways to remedy that violation.”

She said the charter states if a council member moves out of the district, they would vacate their office “forthwith.”

“I didn’t know what that word meant so I had to look that up and it means immediately.”

Madigan is recommending that the county attorney issue an opinion on how that charter provision can be enforced.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski has asked State Attorney General Brian Frosh to weigh in on whether Bevins violated the residency requirement and if so, what if anything can be done about it.

In a statement Sean Naron, Olszewski’s press secretary said, “We appreciate the Inspector General’s prompt efforts. The Office of Law will continue its diligent research regarding the legal issues raised in this report as the county awaits a response from the Office of the Attorney General regarding its request for guidance in this matter.”

In her report, Madigan also recommended that the county council consider updating the charter to include a provision on enforcing a violation of council residency..

She cited Anne Arundel County’s charter, which has a provision that allows the council to declare a council seat vacant under certain conditions, including a violation of residency requirements. That requires a vote of at least five members on the seven-member council.

But Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Democrat, said the charter should be left alone.

“The charter makes clear if you want to remove someone, you can remove them by recall election or you can vote them out of office,” Jones said. “It keeps the burden on the people.”

Jones said courts have raised a “very high bar” when it comes to having someone elected removed from office.

“There are technical violations of the charter from time to time that it’s like no harm no foul.”

Bevins’ move out of her council district, the 6th, which includes Middle River, was first reported by the Baltimore Sun.

According to Madigan’s report, Bevins and her husband bought a home outside her district in July. She did so after consulting with the council’s attorney, Tom Bostwick, who told her the charter allowed her to do that.

"I asked a direct question to Tom Bostwick about moving out of my district," Bevins said. "He gave me a direct answer to later find out that the answer that he gave me was incorrect."

In August, she asked Bostwick about it again, citing the provision in the charter that forbids a council member from living outside their district. According to Madigan’s report, Bostwick apologized for giving Bevins poor advice.

Then in September, Bevins moved in with a family member in an apartment within her district.

"I've done everything that I can to rectify the situation," Bevins said. "I should have read the charter myself. So at the end of the day I blame myself for that."

Bevins said she plans to run for reelection next year.

"I haven't abandoned my district. I haven't stopped working for the constituents of the 6th district."

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2