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Charter Home Rule: Councilmanic Districts or Not?

Fredericks Charter Writing Board Debates Best Structure for County Council

Charter Home Rule: Councilmanic Districts or Not? 11-17-11The Charter Writing Board entered into the next phase of its process of presenting a proposed constitution to the citizens of Frederick County.

Using the format of Cecil Countys charter as a template, the group has chosen to move through the entire document over the course of the next few months at a pace of two meetings per month so as to arrive at a very general consensus on the issues to see how it shapes up.

(All meetings are open to the public.  Most are broadcast live via FCG-TV and replayed regularly, as well as available on instant access through the County’s video archive.)

The public response from the Charter Board’s massive community-wide educational and outreach effort provided the board with a number of terrific ideas for consideration.  Now that the Charter Board is in the writing phase, input from Frederick County residents is even more important.

So what is the hottest topic so far?

While there are many, one of the most challenging is that of the election of county counsel members.

Under charter home rule, the executive and legislative branches of government will be separated into a more traditional structure; similar to what is found at the State and Federal levels of government.  There would be an elected county council made up of five, seven, or nine members that would carry out the legislative duties of the government, and one elected or appointed county executive, who would be responsible for administering the policies set out by the council.

Nearly half of Maryland’s 23 counties (see graph below) have chosen this structure, under which they are governed.

County Government Type by Population in Maryland. Frederick County GovernmentIn Frederick County, our electorate is used to casting five votes for five candidates for County Commissioner positions, who would represent the county at large.

In writing the new constitution for the county, the Charter Writing Board has tremendous flexibility to keep the At-Large concept in place, or carve out representative districts from which individual representatives would be elected …or there could be a combination of the two, among other ideas.

So here are questions for the board with input from our citizenry to consider:

How many county council members should we have?

Thus far the Charter Board is thinking five is a good number.


What is the best structure for a county council?

Assuming five is the number, aside from all county citizens possibly having right to vote for a county executive, consider the following Council options:

  1. All members would be elected At-Largeall residents would have the ability to vote for the combination of five candidates who they think are the best to make policy for the county.
  2. Establish Five Councilmanic Districts the Charter Board will carve out five geographic election districts of equal population from which the citizens of each will only vote for one candidate who resides in that district to represent them on the council.
  3. Blend At-Large and Districtsas an example, the county could be carved into three councilmanic districts of equal population (like northern and western county, Frederick City, and southern county), where citizens of that area select their one representative.  In addition, they would also vote for two candidates who represent the county At-Large.  So each voter will have the right to vote for three of the five slots available to be filled.
  4. Residency Districtsunder this approach, the county would be divided into five districts, from which one representative will be selected from each district by ALL of the County voters.  This would provide every voter with the ability to vote for candidates who reside in each of the five districts out of a cast of two to five candidates representing each geographic district.
  5. Residency Districts and At-Largesimilar to item three above, the number of geographic districts would be pared down to three, leaving two candidates to represent the county at-large.

Got that?

You may be asking, what is the big deal about councilmanic districts?  Why add that into the equation, when historically Frederick citizens have always voted for five candidates who represent the county at-large?

Simple answer is that sometimes certain areas of the Frederick County have not been represented in county government.   Consider the generally historic stormy relationship between Frederick City and our county commissioners During the last county administration it happened that NONE of the commissioners resided in the City of Frederick.

During the Charter Board’s outreach effort several members of the public expressed positive interest in the concept of council manic district representation.

What are your thoughts on how to structure a county council?  Are you comfortable only voting for one council member or three versus five?

Tune in to 930 AM WFMD Radio this Saturday, November 19, 2011 between 9 and 11 AM to join in the conversation on this and other charter topics with Rocky Mackintosh and host Pattee Brown!

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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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