A Frederick County councilman spent much of a debate Monday night outlining some of the pros of charter government, while a former councilman and two other panelists outlined why a commissioner style was more effective for its citizens.
Councilman Kai Hagen (D), former Councilman Kirby Delauter (R), former Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild and Montgomery County resident Robin Ficker debated those forms of local government in “You Decide 2020,” hosted by the Frederick County Conservative Club at the Red Horse Steak House in Frederick.
In his opening remarks, Hagen said he closely followed the charter writing process years ago, and opposed it then because he had concerns about gerrymandering in future council districts and how county executive vacancies were filled, among other issues.
But then, and at several points in the debate, Hagen said that no matter what form of government is used, whoever is elected is going to drive policy and how the county is run. He added that the overall qualify of life and government service countywide have remained strong.
In the charter form of government, a County Council serves as the legislative branch, while the county executive runs the day-to-day operations of the county and serves in an administrative role. In a commissioner form of government, commissioners serve as both the legislative and administrative body of the government.
Delauter, in his opening remarks, said he preferred a commissioner form of government because it allowed better constituent service and was more open.
“I saw a lot of decisions and things happening behind closed doors with no [meeting] minutes, no documentation,” Delauter said of his time as a councilman.
“[With] five commissioners, you have a far less chance of having a problem,” he added.
One of the ancillary themes of Monday night’s debate was the Conservative Club’s effort to get enough signatures from county residents to send a ballot initiative to the County Council to return to a commissioner form of government.
The club needs to gather 10,000 valid signatures by late July to get the ballot language drafted. Fred Propheter, president of the conservative club, said they had gathered well over 1,000 signatures as of Monday.
Ficker, who said he had led several efforts to get charter amendments and ballot issues placed on ballots in Montgomery County elections, urged those in attendance and across the county to sign the petition, to at least have an open debate about charter and commissioner forms of government this year.
“The power of the charter amendment is there,” Ficker said. “Collect the signatures, stop the chitchat, start the skit skat.”
In the debate Monday, Hagen, Delauter, Rothschild and Ficker covered several aspects of local government, including:
- Oversight of the county executive between elections.
- How has charter government, if at all, benefited its citizens.
- How constituent services work in both charter and commissioner government.
- How both styles interact with state government in Annapolis.
- The size of government in both forms of government.
In the debate, Rothschild said charter government gives too much power to the executive branch, and that a commissioner form of government prevents corruption by each commissioner serving as a check on the others.
“A form of government that diffuses power is a little less likely [one] that will become the gears that grind us down,” he said of commissioner government.
No matter what happens, Ficker said it’s important for residents to sign the petition so that people can debate the proper form of local government, which will lead to a better product for county residents.
“Discussing your form of government is an all-American form of thing to do, and making sure people exercise their franchise,” he said. “When you put it on the ballot, you’re forced to have the discussion.”