Crofton city government might be stuck until March

January 10, 2019

CROFTON — When it comes to city government, things are rarely boring in Crofton.

That’s true again now as there appears to be disagreement over what actions can be taken by the Crofton City Council after a former council member was elected mayor and another one resigned, apparently leaving the four-member council with only two members.

As a result, the council now lacks a quorum to do city business until a special election in March to elect two new council members.

At least, that’s the conclusion of the city attorney.

Perhaps complicating matters is that there appears to be sentiment by some in the community to get rid of the current city administrator, Charlie Hendrix, and her husband, Daniel Hendrix, as city attorney.

Following an executive session last month, the Crofton City Council voted to retain the law firm of Copple, Rockey, McKeever & Schlecht of Norfolk to assist the council in reviewing matters related to the city’s existing contract with Hendrix Law. Another city council meeting was scheduled to take place Wednesday evening in Crofton.

Crofton’s new mayor is Sharol Lawhead, the former council member. She took the oath of office last December. Former Mayor Wendell Strom, who had served 12 years, did not run again last year.

Kathy Rockey of the Copple, Rockey, McKeever & Schlecht law firm said she had no comment about what is taking place.

Rockey said it was her understanding there would be a brief meeting Wednesday evening in Crofton, but there would not be action taken without a quorum.

Charlie Hendrix said she recognizes there is some effort to remove her from the appointive office, and the council has the right to do so. But council members need to follow the proper path to do it, she said.

As city attorney, Daniel Hendrix sought the opinion of the state attorney general to determine if Lawhead, as mayor, could be a voting member of the council last month to provide for a council quorum. Hendrix had advised that she could not.

According to the attorney general’s opinion, it appears Hendrix is correct. But the attorney general’s opinion notes it has “no statutory authority to provide legal opinions to local political subdivisions, like the City of Crofton.”

The opinion states, in part, “Based on a four-member council, the presence of three members is necessary to reach a quorum. There is no provision in (state statute) which indicates that a quorum may be reached through the intervention of the mayor.”

As a result, it is unclear whether the council can legally take any actions, such as paying of bills, or if the mayor could appoint someone to the council. That’s because with just two members of the council, there is not a quorum to ratify that appointment.

An opinion offered from the state attorney general’s office indicated in part, “We are not aware of any provisions in state statutes that allows for payment of payroll or other claims unless approved by the city council that has met the quorum requirements. Staff may still work; however, the payment for hours worked must wait until approved by the council.”

That could mean that staff would have to wait until March’s special election for payment to be received.

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