A Baltimore attorney who represents professional firefighters unions statewide will provide insight to the binding arbitration work group, made up of county officials and members of the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County Local 3666, at the group’s next meeting.

Joel Smith will attend the work group’s meeting at 1:30 p.m. July 25 at Winchester Hall, which will focus on binding arbitration options.

Smith “has played a significant role in defining public employee collective bargaining rights in the state both through legislative action and through litigation,” according to his website.

The binding arbitration work group is helping to craft legislation to insert into county code. The work group was formed in response to a ballot issue that passed last fall with over 70 percent of the vote.

Work group members also confirmed deadlines for negotiations between the county and union, and decided Feb. 1 would be a good target for either reaching a new contract, or deciding to use a meditation process or neutral arbitrator.

Discussion often revolved around how much time an arbitrator would need, and preliminary ideas about types of arbitration or mediation.

But Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum emphasized that no matter what happens, the county’s budget process will be in full swing by March. This will give County Executive Jan Gardner (D) time to review which budget requests to approve.

“That process consumes March, for the most part,” Harcum said. “It would be good to have somewhat of an idea of what’s going to happen by February. ... If we get beyond February, it’s going to be more of a time crunch.”

Stephen Jones, president of the Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County Local 3666, asked Harcum if it was possible to finalize the contract too early. Harcum said that could happen, depending on changing economic forecasts.

“If we conclude too early, we might be overly optimistic or pessimistic about what we can afford,” Harcum said.

Charter review commission to solicit feedback from current, former officials

The charter review commission’s first round of soliciting feedback will come from former and current County Council members and the county executive.

The commission is interested in hearing from them about what they like about the charter, what hasn’t worked with the charter and what suggestions they have to improve the document.

At its meeting Wednesday night, Chairman Stephen Slater recommended that the commission complete a draft of recommendations to the County Council before the end of 2019. The deadline for a report to the council is Feb. 28, 2020.

At that meeting, commission members discussed who they should solicit for feedback.

Paul Gilligan, one of its members, was blunt about the deadlines the commission must meet.

“You have an end goal, and a target to hit,” Gilligan said. “You just built an arc of stuff and you’re not going to accomplish a great bit of it, let’s be realistic.”

“The thing is, getting input, there’s bread and butter, that’s fine,” he added. “From the players who use this tool, the charter, that’s a good idea. ... The universe, however, doesn’t care for the most part.”

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.

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