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.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter:

@Steve_Bohnel

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(2) comments

LeBlancp01

I like the concept of a the next person in line from the rank vote position.

stevemckay

On my Facebook page, someone asked what have been the arguments against special elections. Here is my response:

There have been a couple arguments and I don't think they have much merit:

1) Since the vacancy must occur in the first year of a term to trigger a special election, then it isn't worth much to change.

Response - this is the limit that we must place on this in order to avoid a one-off election. If we want to leverage the existing Presidential election cycle, then we must allow candidates to participate. That's why the vacancy deadline is 30 days prior to the Primary registration deadline for that upcoming election. This is why I characterize this amendment as "when practical" - you accept a narrower time frame to avoid spending ~$300K for a one-off election.

2) This would lead to continuity of government concerns.

Response - the article referenced this concern and it was most pointedly made with the argument that we could have as many as four CEs if this is passed. What is usually NOT mentioned, however, is that under the current Charter we would have three CEs if the original vacates. So, if we lose a CE, we will already face continuity of government issues. I think the risk of additional continuity issues with having a fourth CE is far outweighed by the facts that (a) that person would be chosen by the voters and (b) that person would serve a full two years.

3) When a "party" wins a seat, the "party" should keep the seat.

Response - I think this is the most insidious argument of them all and I couldn't disagree more. You see, some people think that the Party Central Committee should always be the ones to chose who will replace a vacating member. As it is, under the current Charter, they get to hand pick the new CE and control who the Council may consider for a Council vacancy. I can live with the Central Committee's role in nominating for appointments, but I say let the people chose for a special election.

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