Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Pictured: Kate Brodie, Oakland's newly elected council member wins by one vote.
By a single vote, Kate Brodie won a seat as a new council member for the town of Oakland following the March 11 elections. With 72 votes, Brodie narrowly nudged out incumbent Jack Riley, who was seeking re-election. With just 71 votes, Riley’s bid to retain his position was unsuccessful. The two other incumbent council members, Jay Moyer, and Kathy Shaffer captured 89 and 86 votes, respectively, to secure their positions for another term. What seemed like a done deal once the results were announced, in less than 24 hours Riley submitted a formal request for a recount. Typically, recounts are requested in close contests, suggesting there was an error in tabulating the results or mishandling of the election process. Riley's request was not specific as to why he expected a different result from a recount. Those overseeing the election process for Oakland handle paper ballots, unlike state elections that utilize an electronic platform. Human error would be the only explanation for an inaccurate count. Roughly 140 ballots were cast by voters asked to select three candidates out of five competing for the available council seats. With barely time for the winners to run a victory lap, a letter from the Mayor and Town Council of Oakland City Hall was circulated to each of the candidates to inform them that a recount would take place on March 13 at noon in the town office to oblige Riley’s request.
Brodie sought advice from Attorney, Tom Dabney about what a recount could mean since she was anxious and excited to assume her role as a new Council member. "I, like many others, have had the opportunity to work with Kate in community activities and know how hard she works to make things better and get things done,” said Dabney. "So, it seemed like a 'no brainer' to step up and help her as many have done in the past." With some research about municipal elections, Brodie learned Oakland's town charter did not specifically address a process for conducting a recount and any election procedures not specifically stated in the charter would not be compliant with state election law. Dabney, confirmed this as did the Garrett County Board of Elections. Brodie has already served as an election judge and was somewhat familiar with how elections are managed. Brodie's sentiment for running for public office was unshaken by the request for a recount. “The whole reason I decided to run was so I could give back to a community that welcomed me with open arms,” she said. Oakland was her first choice of places to call home and to make a fresh start. “I fell in love with Oakland.” An official letter was drafted to the Town of Oakland by Dabney on Brodie’s behalf stating that she would file papers to nullify the recount if necessary to uphold the previous election results. “This was not how I wanted to start this job but it’s important that the democratic process is followed to the letter,” said Brodie. “I had no reason to think the count was inaccurate or mishandled. I was just excited that I won!” Despite her request that the recount be aborted, the Town of Oakland proceeded with their original plans. Eric Robison, the Legislative Chair for Engage Mountain Maryland was in attendance and eager to see how things would play out. Brodie, who is his fellow board member also attended to see if she would be retaining her council seat. “Municipalities need to be aware that they are liable if they do not follow their Charter and in this case, there is no provision for a recount or even a tie,” said Robison. “The Garrett County Election Board referred Oakland to State regulations and Oakland would have been in violation of election law by not having a state representative (Board of Elections) to oversee the recount." Regardless of the outcome, they could have faced serious legal consequences, according to Robison. The ballot recounting produced slightly different totals but not what Riley had hoped for. Riley lost an additional vote increasing the gap between him and Brodie by two votes. It’s still unclear if the recount will be accepted by the Election Board since it was technically not in compliance with Maryland election law. Gwen Evans, Oakland’s Town Manager explained to Brodie that when a special circumstance arises with an election, they defer to the state rules which does has a provision for a recount. However, one of the requirements for a recount is that a representative from the state election board is present for the proceedings – which was not the case. Brodie said she’s still excited about serving the town she embraces despite the drama that could have potentially upended her victory. “I’m ready to get to work and perhaps my first order of business will be to ask that the town to review it’s charter to make sure they are in compliance with Maryland election law,” she said. Other plans she has include having a designated phone number for residents to contact her with concerns or ideas. She also plans to have a social page and website to offer full disclosure about what the town is working on and an online platform to invite input. “I want our citizens to be active and involved in Oakland government,” explains Brodie. “We all play an important role in our prosperity.” Although she loves Oakland, Brodie sees several areas that need the council's attention. Her campaign recommended that the towns principal interests should be with local residents and businesses while supplementing commerce through tourism. She would also like to see improvements to the pedestrian experience in downtown Oakland, and make sure the most vulnerable population, youth and the elderly, are properly served. Using partnerships, Brodie wants to be more proactive to combat substance abuse and provide access to rehab, preserve our community schools, and ask that the town reexamine the need for a bypass based on the most current data. “I’m ready to build upon Oakland’s successes and I encourage everyone to get registered and get out to vote in the next election,” Brodie continues. “My experience has been a great example of how every vote counts!” All three winners in this recent election will be sworn in on April 1 at the regularly scheduled Oakland Town Council meeting. The public is invited and encouraged to attend and to congratulate them.