Court Rules HCPS Teacher Jacob Bennett Cannot Serve On County Council


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HAVRE DE GRACE - A Circuit Court has ruled that Jacob Bennett, the public school teacher who won a seat on the Harford County Council, cannot serve as a council member due to a conflict of interest, officials said.

According to a Facebook post from Bennett, he is planning to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Maryland. 

"It is our hope that the Supreme Court of Maryland recognizes the faults in this ruling and will recognize that school teachers are neither employees of the county or state government, but rather a separate body governed by the board of education," Bennett wrote. 

The Harford County Public Schools kindergarten teacher won his seat by fewer than 100 votes in November's election, ousting incumbent councilman Curtis Beulah.

The controversy over Bennett's position as a public school teacher began almost immediately. On December 8, 2022, Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly filed an official complaint with the Harford County Circuit Court. Cassilly contended that Bennett's job as a public school teacher violates section 207 of the Harford County Charter, which bans state or county employees from serving on the council.

The relevant passage in Section 207 states:

"During the term of office, the Council member shall not hold any other office of profit or employment in the government of the State of Maryland, Harford County, or any municipality within Harford County, except a position held by virtue of being a Council member."

The County filed a motion for preliminary injunction on December 28, requesting that Bennett be removed from the council, according to Bennett's Lawyer, Joe Sandler. Bennett quickly filed a countermotion for a preliminary injunction against Harford County.

As a result of the unsettled lawsuit, Bennett was not invited to the county’s inauguration and the swearing-in ceremony, added to the county payroll, given a county phone, or reimbursed for miles driven.

All Harford County Circuit Court judges had recused themselves from the case, so senior judge Richard Bernhardt, who had retired in 2021 from the Howard County Circuit Court, served as the judge for the case, the Baltimore Sun reports.

"I took an oath to uphold the Harford County Charter, which clearly states that a Council member may not also be employed as a teacher for Harford County Public Schools. Today's ruling affirms this fact. This case was never about Mr. Bennett personally, it was about upholding the law," Cassilly said in a statement released on Wednesday.

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