Frederick County Councilman Steve McKay is still interested in drafting proposed charter amendments that would allow special elections to fill certain vacancies, despite the Charter Review Commission's vote against them this week.

McKay (R) said he was disappointed in the commission's decision to vote against drafting recommendations to allow special elections to fill empty seats on the County Council and for county executive, if those vacancies occurred in the first two years of a four-year term. 

Commission members clarified at their meeting Wednesday that given election filing deadlines, McKay's proposals would apply only in the first year of a term.

Chairman Stephen Slater said he saw the positives of McKay's proposal, including that it aligns with the overall mission of charter government, which is supposed to be more modern than the commissioner form.

But, the proposals only fit into a "very narrow window" of time, and could lead to a lack of continuity of government. He cited County Executive Jan Gardner's (D) concern that the proposal could lead to possibly four county executives serving one term.

Slater's opinion was seconded by Vice Chairman John Daniels, especially regarding the county executive position.

"That one person makes decisions daily that direct the direction of the county," Daniels said. "And I just feel if we are going to have two, three or four potential people at the helm, that we're not going to get the things done that need to be done."

Commissioner Walter Olson and others disagreed. They said given the minimal cost of holding special elections under McKay's proposal, it made sense to return that decision to the voters, versus an appointment process laid out in the charter.

"When we are putting on the midterm election anyway, this is a non-onerous way to make the system more democratic," Olson said.

Votes on both the County Council and county executive proposals failed 4-3. McKay said it will probably be more difficult to get those on as ballot referendums next fall because of the lack of support from the commission, but he's going to try to persuade other council members to do so.

"To me, it’s a fundamentally good change, it’s a pro-democracy change," McKay said. "Anytime we can ... bring that decision back to the electorate rather than keeping it in the hands of a few people ... that trade-off, in terms of generating a little less continuity as a trade-off to a lot more electoral participation, I’ll take that any day."

The Charter Review Commission must complete a draft of recommendations to the County Council by Feb. 28 of next year, and will present that draft to the council in March.

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.

(12) comments

DickD

If they change to just have one election at the mid terms costs would be reduced to almost nothing. That would mean any appointment would be for less than 2 years. And it is not likely that there would be 4 changes in 4 years.

stevemckay

Dick - you’re absolutely right about costs. Cost really isn’t a factor under my proposals to hold the special elections concurrently with an existing election.

As for how many County Executives we could have in a four year term, take a look at the comment from tigerzord (which was me). Any time that we face the unfortunate situation of losing the CE during their term, we’ll either have three CEs under the current Charter, or we would have four CEs under my proposal. I think whatever marginal disruption that may occur by having that one additional executive is more than offset by the fact that it would be the voters choice.

FrederickFan

Any process that results in four people in the position in one term makes no sense.

Tigerzord

I've been very disappointed in how this has been characterized. Here's the math:

In our current process, if the County Executive leaves office, the Chief Administrative Officer is temporarily appointed. Then the Party Central Committee of the vacating CE picks who they want to be the new CE and sends that name to the County Council. The County Council MUST appoint that person. Aside from the fact that this is a really bad process, you should note that I just totaled THREE County Executives in the single term, under our CURRENT CHARTER.

Under my proposal, yes, we would have a fourth County Executive. But that person would be CHOSEN BY THE PEOPLE, rather than the Central Committee, and would serve the remaining two years of the term.

So in reality, this is a choice of having three Executives (current Charter) or four Executives under my special election proposal. Do you really think that's a major disruption? Do you think that disruption is worth it to put the decision back in the hands of the voters? I know I do.

stevemckay

Tigerzord gets really annoyed when I mistakenly post under her name ... oops!

public-redux

I sure hope no one is going to suggest that the second-highest vote-getter should be appointed to the Council or the CE. I know that’s a popular view for the BOE.

stevemckay

No worries. That’s never been part of my proposals

rbtdt5

Isn't that what happened last time? Jan picked someone for the BOE that the voters had rejected. Then that appointed, not elected, person went out and put someone in intensive care due to negligence. And pushing for rules that if she was following could have avoided that whole accident. Wonder what ever happened to that person. I believe they were a kid so we don't even know their name. I agree public, we can be letting these losers into office. I do wish the FNP would do a follow up story and at least let us know if that kid lived or not.

public-redux

No, that isn't what happened last time. Gardner picked someone who was not the next highest vote-getter in the BOE race. That person was an incumbent who was rejected by the voters for reelection to the BOE. And yet scads of commenters and LTE writers thought she was somehow next in line. Glad to hear that you agree with me.

rbtdt5

Wait, maybe I don't agree with you. I don't think we should be appointing anyone rejected by the voters no matter what they were running for. The last appointment was rejected by the voters for office. The CE then handed her loser friend an elected spot since she was unable to do it on her own.

public-redux

Ah, that’s a different situation that I wasn’t addressing. I’ll have to think about that. Different offices could benefit from different skill sets.

public-redux

So I’ve given this some thought and have some questions about what you are suggesting. Does it matter if the electorate is different in terms of physical location? Ex: Someone lost a race in Carroll County and has since relocated to FredCo. Does it matter if the electorate if different in terms of time? Ex: Some lost a race 40 years ago. Some of the voters then are dead now. Some of the voters now weren’t even alive then.

Does it matter if the voters who did the rejecting are a subset of the voters for the open office? Ex: Someone lost a race in Rosemont, population ~325. About one-tenth of one percent of the county population. Is that person now disqualified from an office that serves the entire county?

Does it matter if the person lost a primary race rather than a general election race? If so, what if the position that is open isn’t even partisan, like the BOE. Do the voters of one party get to disqualify someone?

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