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Hyattsville councilmember bought home outside the ward that he represents

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Posted on: June 5, 2024

By HEATHER WRIGHT AND KIT SLACK

During the June 3 virtual city council meeting, Claire Panak Tombes attempted to read a comment summarizing an article she wrote for Route One Finance, published May 30. 

In the article, Tombes reported that City Councilmember Rommel Sandino (Ward 5) bought a home in Ward 1, in 2021, making it his second in the city. Sandino has owned his home in Ward 5 since 2017. Tombes reported that Sandino did not disclose the purchase of the Ward 1 home to the city.  

Councilmembers are required to live in the ward they represent. They are also required to disclose their real estate holdings in financial disclosure statements, which are reviewed by the city’s ethics commission. These statements are not published on the city’s website.

At the meeting, Council President Joseph Solomon (Ward 5) interrupted Tombes in the middle of her second sentence, and he and Mayor Robert Croslin agreed that she should not continue speaking.

There were no further comments from residents participating in the meeting. Immediately after the public comment period closed, Council Vice President Joanne Waszczak (Ward 1) said she was confused about why the council did not allow Tombes to read her comment in full. “I just don’t want to shut down public comment when we’re trying to encourage people to speak to us and engage with us at the beginning of meetings,” she said, asking for advice from the city administrator or city clerk.  

Croslin said he did not want any staff or councilmember singled out during a council meeting. Councilmember Edouard Haba (Ward 4) noted that Tombes should have been allowed to read her comment if it was not just a summary of the article, which he said councilmembers had read before the meeting. 

Croslin and Deputy City Clerk Nate Groenendyk invited Tombes to speak again, though Croslin asked her not to read the summary of the article. After offering her view that all members of the public should be allowed two minutes of comment, including by reading written statements, Tombes said, “Hyattsville city councilmembers should file accurate, complete and truthful financial disclosure statements. That is what you are required to do by the code, and you should do that. It is not that difficult.”

Croslin responded, “Well, thank you for that comment. I’ve always found it a bit difficult for me, but thank you.” 

Sandino refused a Life & Times interview request. He bought space in the paper’s June 2024 print edition to publish a statement acknowledging that he owned the Ward 1 residence and had not properly disclosed the purchase.  

Sandino explained that he purchased the home from his parents, in 2021, so they could age in place there. Sandino said that, for personal reasons, he has been living for periods in each property, and that immediate members of his family live in each home.

“I recognize that none of this excuses my mistake and oversight of not disclosing this property in the City’s disclosure forms,” he said. “For this, I truly apologize to Ward 5 constituents, City residents, members of the Ethics Committee, and City staff.” 

Sandino noted that he will submit amended disclosure forms for the review of the city’s ethics commission.

The ethics commission held a closed meeting June 4. The agenda notes, “The Commission will review campaign finance reports for compliance.”


For the past two years, Tombes has occasionally volunteered as a reporter for the Hyattsville Life & Times, often covering city budget and finance topics.This spring, she started her own online news outlet, Route One Finance, which is not affiliated with Streetcar Suburbs Publishing or the Life & Times.

 

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