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Charter Government: An idea whose time has come in Frederick County

The MacRo Report Blog is pleased to welcome Jennifer P. Dougherty as a guest writer this week.

Charter Government - a Big IdeaWe need some BIG ideas!  Candidates for State and County offices are eager to prove their worthiness for office with long – and short – lists of priorities:  Responsible Spending, Responsible Growth, Accountability, Job Growth.  You name it and it’s on someone’s list.

But, this is a BIG year.  The problems are serious and we need more than candidates who promise to cut spending, eliminate waste and recruit businesses if they are elected.  What candidates say in September rarely translates into action in February.  After all, four years ago, a majority of the current Board of County Commissioners supported Charter Home Rule for Frederick County, but after being sworn into office the concept of Charter Government found “File 13.”

The Rotary Club of Carroll Creek hosted a cordial debate on the merits of Charter Government where Commissioner John L. Thompson and former Commissioner/Delegate Rick Weldon agreed Charter Government would not change much unless the Charter was effectively discussed, written and adopted.

Charter Government won’t fix the backlog of road projects, it won’t adequately fund health or retirement benefits for government employees and it will not reduce the tax burden on residents!  Charter Government won’t make people attend public meetings when bond hearings are on the agenda or when the annual budget gets adopted.  Heck, Charter Government won’t even make people vote.

Charter Government is a better option that our current Commissioner form of government and I think we need a BIG change.

A Charter for Frederick County should include a County Executive to run the government and a larger Board of County Commissioners who hold all legislative power.  Our huge county should adopt several districts, maybe 5 or 6, so each area is specifically represented; and one or two at-large Commissioners who can see the big picture.

Charter Government could help under-represented county residents who feel blocked out by City of Frederick issues and problems and help City of Frederick residents who rarely have an elected representative on the Board of County Commissioners.

Critics will automatically say, “It will grow government spending!” Those critics were likely silent when the County’s administrative staff nearly doubled in the past decade.  Those critics were silent when the BOCC raises were adopted despite adding more staff.  I believe the BOCC is a part-time legislative position and we will attract good and qualified people who can also continue in their businesses and lives while they serve in a Charter Government.

Critics will also say, “It will put too much power into the hands of a County Executive!”  Take it from me, the legislators hold the power.  But, an Executive is accountable to the voters to produce results and to be transparent.  There is no invisible or secret bureaucracy attached to a County Executive, quite the contrary, it is more transparent and closer to the people.  It is the Executive’s job to make sure the public is aware of new rules and policies passed by the County’s elected legislators.  The current system allows little time to bring the information to the public since they function as Co-Executives and Co-Legislators simultaneously.

And, continuing on the “power trip” critique, unless there is a really BIG change in the way of the world in Annapolis, Frederick County will be better-served if we have a County Executive who has a seat at the table with the Governor and the leaders in the State Senate and State House.  We actually NEED a little more power in Annapolis!

Charter Government is not something to fear.  It is something we can all understand – it’s the system we see on the federal, state and municipal level every day.  A Commission form of government places the power in the hands of three people who might think alike on a particular day.

On a practical level, we know the people in our Charter Governments – most people know their Mayor/Burgess and Town Council/Aldermen.  Can most people name their County Commissioners?

Charter Government does not take away any power or rights from the towns and cities in our County.  It creates an effective system of governance.

Yes, a variety of efforts have failed over the decades.  So what?  Give up?  Democracy is about promoting good ideas – reforming our government – all of the time.  Each effort taught us something and we are smarter for it.

It’s the right time.  We can push candidates for the Board of County Commissioners to support forming a Charter-writing Committee and to present the work in time for the 2012 election.

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Jennifer P. Dougherty is a former Mayor of the City of Frederick (2001-2005) and is a local business entrepreneur.  She is an owner and the operator of Magoo’s Pub and Eatery in downtown Frederick and formerly owned and operated Jennifer’s Restaurant on West Patrick Street (opened 1987 – 2008) and Dougherty’s Irish Shop (1999-2006).  She is a member of the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek. She is also a licensed real estate agent with Taylor Properties.

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