Several amendments to the Frederick County charter will move to a referendum in the upcoming election, but one to give the County Council more power in the budget process was shot down.
The council voted 4-3 along party lines with council President Bud Otis (unaffiliated-at large) as the swing vote Tuesday to kill a potential charter amendment that would have given the council the power to increase specific items in the budget as long as any increase would be offset by an equal decrease. The council currently can only cut from the budget.
Council member M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D-District 3) said she could not support the amendment because she felt it furthered a “silo mentality” in the county government between the council and the executive.
The amendment could cause the council to make budget adjustments and move money to different departments without conferring with the county executive, Keegan-Ayer said. She preferred a more collaborative approach, which she felt the county got this budget cycle, she said.
Council member Billy Shreve (R-at large) said the current system is lopsided with the balance of power leaning toward the county executive. He argued that the charter amendment would actually force more collaboration between the council and executive.
Tony Chmelik (R-District 1) argued that the charter amendment allows council members to advocate more strongly for the districts they represent.
“When you can only cut [from the budget], it doesn’t give you ability to have honest dialogue about policy,” he said.
Rick Harcum, the county’s budget director, said he was concerned about the volume of work the charter amendment would add and that it could slow down the budgeting process, which is already subject to tight deadlines.
Instead, he, like Keegan-Ayer, preferred diplomatic discussion to work around problems that arise in the budget.
“I’m trying to offer bureaucratic solutions short of rewriting the county charter,” Harcum said. “I have a preference to manage it year to year rather than amend this high-level document.”
Council member Jerry Donald (D-District 1) said he thought a few more years of the budget process would tell if the charter amendment is needed, or if it’s just the particular “personalities” that sit on the council.
Donald was concerned by the seeming lack of public interest in the amendment. The council held a public hearing on the amendment last month, and one person spoke.
Shreve argued that was a reason to send it to referendum.
“If you put it on the ballot, you’ll hear overwhelmingly what people think,” Shreve said. “If you don’t want to hear from the people, vote against it.”
While the council turned down that amendment, it did vote to send three other potential charter amendments to the ballot box in November.
Under the first charter amendment, the council would receive more power to remove the county attorney from office. The amendment states that “the County Attorney shall serve at the pleasure of the Executive and the council.”
The county attorney, who serves both the county executive and the council, could be removed from office by either the executive with five affirming votes from the council, or upon a vote from at least six council members, under the proposed amendment.
Voters will also get to weigh in on giving the council the right to pass “expedited legislation.”
Expedited legislation is defined as legislation that is necessary as part of the public health, safety and welfare of the county. The proposed amendment passed 4-3 along party lines with Otis as the swing vote.
The final amendment would grant a political party’s central committee power to appoint a list of potential replacements should a council member step down from office, with the replacements being from the same political party from which the candidate was elected.
The amendment would still grant the county executive power to appoint a candidate to the position should the council be able to fill the vacancy.
Council member Jessica Fitzwater (D-District 4) pulled a potential charter amendment that granted certain collective bargaining rights to non-management county employees. She pulled the amendment because the career firefighters union is collecting signatures to bring its own charter amendment to referendum.