After several months of work by the charter review commission and multiple weeks of review by the County Council, debate over which charter amendment questions will make it to the ballot box this fall will likely conclude next week.
Council members will decide whether to include charter amendment questions like allowing the council to move—but not add—funds in the county executive’s budget. They’ll also vote on whether establishing special elections for council and county executive vacancies, paying the council president more money than other council members and other issues should be on the ballot at next Tuesday’s meeting.
The charter review commission did not pass Councilman Steve McKay (R)’s proposals of creating special elections for vacancies for both council members and the county executive, but McKay is still trying to persuade council members to include them on the presidential election ballot in November.
Both those proposals would line up the special elections with existing gubernatorial and presidential primaries, in order to save money versus holding a special election at any time.
McKay said nothing is guaranteed, but was optimistic about council members moving forth proposals forward.
“I think if these are on the ballot they will get passed because … it gives them [the voters] back important decisions,” McKay said. “And they’re what we should all be about, is getting that vote back to the residents of Frederick County.”
Charter review commission members who opposed McKay’s amendments said if approved, they could lead to a lack of continuity in government, specifically if there were two or more executives in a four-year term. But McKay said he would trade continuity for returning the decision to county voters.
“You hope to never have to replace a [county] executive .. if you have a vacancy in the executive, that means something bad happened,” he said. “But you need to have a plan to replace them.”
The other amendment not approved by the charter review commission was allowing council members to move money around in the county executive’s proposed budget each year. Councilman Phil Dacey (R) is hoping council members move that to this fall’s ballot.
Much like McKay, Dacey believes that voters should choose whether to implement that change in the budget process.
“It’s the most important question we’re debating on Tuesday night,” Dacey said of the amendments. “If there is considerable debate over whether the council should have the power to move things around in the budget, that in itself is a strong argument that we should just let the voters decide.”
The majority of charter review commission members, however, sided Councilman Jerry Donald (D), who said that change would require council members to have dozens of additional meetings with county divisions and the county administration during budget season, turning a part-time job into a full-time one.
Council members would also probably need a temporary budget director for during budget season, Donald said.
“It would definitely change the nature of the job,” Donald said about Dacey’s proposal.
But Dacey said many constituents already believe the council has the power to move money around as a check and balance on the executive branch. The Board of Aldermen exercised this power when she served on that body, he added.
Dacey and Donald agreed, however, that it will be best to limit the number of charter amendment questions due to “voter fatigue,” which refers to when voters might be less aware of races and issues as they move down a lengthy ballots. Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said she was aiming to move forward with three or four amendments, because otherwise “voters get lost” in the length of the ballot.
The council is scheduled to debate and vote on these and other issues at its next meeting, which starts at 4:30 p.m. on June 23.