OCEAN CITY – Councilwoman Margaret Pillas’s request to reopen Philip Ufholz’s hearing to further deliberate his Ocean City residency and qualification to run for council was unsuccessful this week.
Two weeks ago, the Mayor and City Council held a public hearing after the residency of City Council candidate Ufholz was challenged by local attorney Jay Phillips representing the Citizens For Ocean City group.
After considerable testimony and comments, Ufholz was denied as a candidate by the council in a 5-2 vote, with council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas opposed.
At the hearing, Phillips challenge was based on the language of the charter, “to qualify for election … must be a resident of and domiciled in the corporate limits of the Town of Ocean City”.
Besides reviewing several case laws, and the definitions of “residence” and “domicile” in relation to Ocean City’s code, Phillips’ primary piece of evidence was Ufholz’s State Department of Assessment and Taxation (SDAT) form.
According to the form, Ufholz’s Ocean City address is not listed as his primary address. An address in Bethesda is listed as the primary address as well as is the address where tax bills are to be sent. The form is dated Sept. 24, 2014.
According to Ufholz, his family purchased the property in Ocean City in 1975, and when he retired as a tax attorney he became a permanent resident in Ocean City in 2008, although his wife remains a resident in Bethesda.
Ufholz provided an Ocean City senior bus pass, a driver’s license with his Ocean City address listed, his voter registration code being a registered voter in Ocean City, where he has voted in the past three elections, a letter from a neighbor stating he has been a permanent resident in Ocean City for the past six years and a copy of his most recent State of Maryland tax return listing his Ocean City address.
At the conclusion of Monday evening’s Mayor and City Council meeting, Councilwoman Margaret Pillas asked the council to consider reopening Ufholz’s public hearing for further deliberation.
Pillas argued Ufholz, who was not in attendance at this week’s meeting, attended his hearing bearing the documents he was instructed to bring to prove he is a resident of and domiciled in Ocean City four months prior to the election.
“During his hearing, several council members’ stated they didn’t think he qualified because of a Homestead Tax Credit and SDAT showed he still lived in Bethesda,” Pillas said. “I called Montgomery County Division of Treasury and spoke to a Mr. Allen, who said Montgomery County issues an automatic tax credit to the primary home in that county, and it is never applied for by the owner. Mr. Ufholz told me he only received that tax credit last year and his wife receives it as she has remained in that home.”
Pillas, who has been in contact with Ufholz over the matter, reiterated Ufholz retired in Ocean City in 2008 but his wife remains in Bethesda as she works in Rockville until she retires in 2015 and moves to Ocean City as well.
“She is entitled to receive a tax credit at that home,” Pillas said. “It was implied by the council that he was working the system by retiring here and she was living there and getting the tax credit but that isn’t the case. Mr. Ufholz never applied for an Ocean City tax credit … I think Mr. Ufholz did show the documents he needed to have.”
Councilman Doug Cymek responded the council was instructed by legal counsel to make a decision based on the totality of evidence provided.
“If you listen to the hearing online, I think you will clearly understand the gentleman wasn’t candid, in fact some people accused him of being deceptive. I should remind you that the gentleman is an attorney at law. He knows the rules of evidence. He knows what to present. He has defended people in court. He claims to be a trial lawyer. I don’t think we needed to go out of our way to give him any instructions in what to bring to defend himself,” Cymek said.
Council Secretary Mary Knight reminded Pillas this isn’t the first time she had participated in a candidate’s denial to run for office. Six years ago, the council denied a candidate due to his residency being in Annapolis.
“The other thing I find extremely curious, if I was Mr. Ufholz I would have been here tonight. I wouldn’t have a council member pleading my case. What I would have done is the Thursday after I was denied I would have been filing a case with the Circuit Court,” Knight said. “We have done this before. It was not out of malice. It was not done out of fear that somebody would be running against a council member.”
There was no motion made to reopen Ufholz’s public hearing and therefore the matter was not revisited by the council.
“Certainly Mr. Ufholz should come and fight for himself. I am not sitting up here fighting for Mr. Ufholz. I am fighting for the process. That is my job as an elected official to say when I don’t think the process is being honored. I think everybody should sit up here and fight for the principle that I think is being completely destroyed,” Pillas said.