Four local questions are on the ballot in Frederick County this fall, all making changes to the county charter. All are worthy of support from voters.
They are Questions A, B, C and D. The latter two are the questions which have stirred some controversy. The changes would set up a process for holding special elections to replace the county executive or any County Council member in the event the office became vacant.
The proposed amendments are the brainchild of Republican Councilman Steve McKay, who is campaigning for the changes with the support of Democratic Councilman Kai Hagen.
If a vacancy on the council occurs now, a replacement would be chosen by the majority vote of the remaining council members from a list of three names, which would be submitted by the central committee of the political party to which the departed council member belonged at the time of the prior election. The central committee must make a recommendation within 30 days and the council must act within 45 days.
In the case of the executive, the party central committee would effectively choose the replacement, with the charter stating that the council would only get a single nominee from the party. Again, the central committee must act within 30 days and the council then within 45 days.
The most important change proposed under the McKay amendment is that — if a vacancy occurs within the first year of an official’s term — the county would hold a special election to let voters directly choose a replacement.
If the vacancy occurs at any other time during the official’s term, the current rules would apply, with one significant exception. The central committee would have to recommend three candidates for the executive vacancy as well, as it must for the council vacancy.
But with a vacancy in the first year of the term, the council would immediately select a temporary replacement following those rules. Other candidates would be able to run for the remainder of the term, with each party nominating a candidate in a primary election and then the voters selecting the new official in the general election.
Since the county elections take place during the off-year between presidential elections, the special election would coincide with a presidential election, so the additional cost to the county would be negligible.
We support the changes. As McKay told The News-Post editorial board: “It’s all about bringing this back to the people.”
A vacancy during the first year leaves ample time in the term to let the voters select the replacement. And we agree that the voters should be the decision-makers when practicable. We urge voting “for” both Question C and D.
The other two questions on the ballot have not been controversial.
The charter now requires the county executive to provide information requested by the County Council as a group for bill drafting or other research. Under current practice, County Executive Jan Gardner’s administration is already responding to information requests from individual council members without requiring that the whole council approve.
Question A would formalize the practice, requiring future executives to comply when any single council member requests information. It seems like a reasonable balance to the power of the executive.
Frederick has been fortunate in its choice of Gardner, the first executive elected under the charter that was adopted in 2012, and largely in the members elected to council. For the most part, they have worked cooperatively and for the benefit of the county.
Our belief is that council members are unlikely to abuse the power to seek information, so we encourage voting For Question A.
Lastly, Question B would tighten the limits on debt written into the charter. For now, the county’s borrowing power is limited to 5 percent of assessable real property and 12 percent of assessable personal property. The administration and council both agree that those limits should be reduced to 3 percent of real property and 9 percent of personal property.
The Gardner administration said the actual borrowing is less than half of the current limits, and the limits are simply too high. For that reason, we urge voting For Question B.