An unsettling prospect is looming with the approach of April 17, the day when the 41st District Democratic Central Committee is poised to select a replacement for its onetime senator, Nathaniel T. Oaks:
Oaks, who on March 29 resigned his Senate seat and pled guilty to two charges of felony fraud, sits on the seven-member committee and will be able on that day to vote on his own replacement.
Saying that this violates “at least two sections” of the Baltimore City Central Committee’s bylaws, a group of 10 district residents yesterday submitted a petition to its chairman Scherod C. Barnes calling for Oaks to be removed.
“The voters of the 41st district deserve an appointments process that is open, transparent and free of influence peddling,” wrote the petitioners, a group that includes Amalie Ward, Nancy Lord Lewin and Christopher Ervin.
But that won’t be possible, according to Barnes, citing committee rules, including a specific transmission process that he thought the petitioners had failed to follow:
Namely, that such petitions must be snail mailed, not emailed.
“I spoke to the young lady and explained it,” Barnes told The Brew. “Our official mail must come to our post office box.”
The petitioners said the document was over-nighted to arrive before noon today and that yesterday’s email, with a scanned copy of the petition, was just to give notice of what was coming.
None of this sat right with at least one resident of this Northwest Baltimore legislative district – longtime civil rights advocate Helena Hicks.
Hicks said she was appalled by the idea that Oaks remains on the committee for the replacement vote and that his name remains on the June 26 primary ballot for another term as a senator and for the central committee.
“That’s illegal. That’s absolutely insane,” she said. “I’ll take them to court.”
Under a provision of state election law, a judge could order the State Board of Elections to withdraw Oaks’ name from the ballot.
“We have to give him due process”
Although Barnes urged the petitioners to get their letter to the city central committee quickly (Ward said it is being hand-delivered today), he said there is no time for them to act on it.
Their scheduled meeting falls on April 18 – one day after the 41st District’s meeting to choose Oaks’ replacement.
“I know people want me to expedite this, but there’s nothing I can do legally,” Barnes said. “We have to give him due process under the rules.”
Couldn’t the committee have acted on its own to remove Oaks or to ask him to resign from the body?
Barnes’ response was that “the process does not begin until we receive a petition.”
Barnes said today that he put a call in to Oaks this morning to ask him if he would consider resigning.
“I have yet to receive a return phone call,” he said. “If he would do it, it would save us a whole lot of trouble.”
Why wasn’t Oaks removed automatically upon pleading guilty to federal corruption charges?
The reason, according to state election officials, is that the trigger for disqualification from holding office is not being convicted of a felony, but being sent prison.
Oaks, whose two fraud charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, is scheduled for sentencing on July 17.
FULL TEXT OF THE PETITION:
Dear Mr. Barnes and Ms. Gibson,
This letter serves as an official petition for removal of Nathaniel Oaks from representing the 41st District on the State Central Committee. On March 29, 2018, Mr. Oaks resigned his seat in the Maryland General Assembly and pled guilty to two charges of felony fraud. With his plea, Mr. Oaks admitted to using his power as a state representative for personal gain and allowing financial interests to supercede his obligation to represent the residents of the 41st District. This development places Mr. Oaks in violation of the Baltimore City Central Committee By-Laws in at least two sections: Article II: Membership, Section 7: Code of Ethics and Article V: Removal, Section 2: Removal of Members for Conduct.
We, the undersigned registered Democratic voters who live in the 41st District, therefore request that Mr. Oaks be immediately removed from the Baltimore City State Central Committee as stated in Article V. Section 2 of the BCSDCC bylaws for malfeasance in office and being convicted of a felony. We further request that the process of removing Mr. Oaks from the BCSDCC is completed expeditiously and/or that Mr. Oaks not be allowed to participate as a voting member in the appointment of the senate seat now open due to his resignation. The voters of the 41st district deserve an appointments process that is open, transparent, and free of influence peddling. If Mr. Oaks is allowed to participate in the selection of the next senator, we will lack confidence in that process, the appearance will harm the reputation of the BCSDCC and the Democratic Party, and could cast doubt on the candidate who is selected. We request a published acknowledgement and response to this petition with detailed next steps posted to the BCSDCC website.