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Charter Home Rule: A Strong County Executive?

A look at some of the words to promote the 8 hopeful “Citizen Nominee” petitioners for the Charter Board

Charter Home Rule - County Executive Strong ManWhoops, is this an article posted by a Charter Board member protesting the efforts of 8 gallant charter board hopefuls?

No, not at all!

As I have stated in previous postings around the web, I applaud those serious “Citizen Nominees” who desire to have a seat at the charter writing table.

If they are successful in garnering the 2,000 valid signatures of registered voters in Frederick County, then they will have earned the right to appear on a ballot of a special election.

I will not dwell on how the process works here, as it has been covered here in the MacRo Report Blog as well as elsewhere extensively over the last several weeks.

With that said however, right from the document that the petition drivers circulate, it is a concern of mine that certain statements are more than a bit conflicting with the reality of the focus of the members of the appointed board.

Consider the following statements that are found in the petitioners’ handout (Petition for Citizen Nominees for a Charter Writing Committee for Frederick County) about the appointed board members:

  1. “These nominees … hand-picked by the BOCC (Frederick County Board of County Commissioners) , are in lock-step with its policies, and will serve as little more than rubberstamps of the Commissioners during the charter process.” 
  2. “The Board (of County Commissioners) and its nominees (appointed Charter Board members) will try to impose an all-powerful executive on Frederick County who can side-step citizen concerns and cater to the priorities of special interests.”

In response I will use a quote from John Daniels, a member of the United Democrats of Frederick County, made on a Facebook discussion page sponsored by the local “non-political” non-profit organization envision of which former County Commissioner Kai Hagen is the executive director and chief contributor to the writings of the group.  While I do not know Mr. Daniels position on the petition drive, his words are very worthy of use here.

Regarding referencing the Charter Board as a “committee”:

“The Maryland Constitution refers to the writers of the charter as the “Charter Board” not committee. Referring to the Charter Board as a “committee” suggest[s] that it is subordinate to its creators. A committee would report findings or make recommendations to the office, or person(s) that created it.  The Charter Board is not beholding … and does not report findings or make recommendations to the office, or person(s) that created it.” 

For this group to refer to Charter Board as a “committee” seems to imply that the appointed board is under the thumb so to speak of the BOCC.

This Board is a very independent group of individuals who do represent both major political parties, as well as a variety of social and cultural perspectives.  No rubber stamping here!

They recognize that they were given a specific task to represent the different views of the citizens of Frederick County and write a constitution for our community. This will eventually be accepted or rejected by the voters at the ballot box.

In order to accomplish this task, unlike any charter writing effort anywhere in Maryland has done before, this board will be conducting a number of outreach (Town Hall type) meetings throughout Frederick County to gather ideas and opinions from citizens before they begin the task of writing.  And once the writing starts all meetings of the Board will remain open to the public with opportunities for additional input along the way.

But what about the assertion that the Board is predisposed to “impose an all-powerful [strong] executive on [the citizens of] Frederick County who can … cater to the priorities of special interests”?

Once again, I will use a quote from Mr. Daniels:

“A charter form of government provides for separation of the executive and the legislative functions of government…which we do not have with our Commissioner form of government.  Additionally it transfers the power of making local laws from our Delegation to us, the voter[s].”

In creating this separation of the dual (and often conflicting) powers of the commissioner form of government, Frederick County will become structured closer to that of its twelve municipal jurisdictions.  The City of Frederick for instance has an elected mayor (executive) and a board of aldermen (county council).  The critical element in the drafting of a charter is to find the right balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

Are you aware of calls for changes to the City’s Charter to reign in the powers of the Mayor?

To think that this group or any other charter board would try to heavily weight the powers of one body over the other is simply silly.  Our democracy is based upon a divided government with a balance of powers.

But the bigger question is what do the statements “all-powerful” and “very strong” mean when referring to a county executive?

In my readings in the newspapers, social media and elsewhere, I have yet to have anyone express what they actually mean by using these phrases.  Could it be a strong man competition?

In all seriousness, the charter board has had no deliberations addressing the role of the executive and is keenly aware that, whether balanced, strong, or weak (by whatever definition one uses), this will be a key determinant in whether the public will support the charter.  To that end I cannot envision the board deliberately setting up such an imbalance as will ensure its defeat.

Special election or not, it’s all about the Charter Board members keeping an open mind to voices of the citizens of Frederick County, and as good stewards, the board will deliver a “people’s document” which in the end will be decided at the polls by you, the people …  not the Board of County Commissioners.

No matter what the final mix of the Charter Board, its actions will speak loader to the public than any words that have been spoken or appeared in print thus far.

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The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He is an appointed member of the Frederick County Charter Board.  He also writes

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