With the November 2012 general election just about six months away, the Charter Board is putting the finishing touches on the draft of a new constitution for Frederick County.
As most of our citizens know, since its establishment in 1748, Frederick County has operated under the County Commissioner form of government. For the twelve Charter Board members appointed by the current administration of the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners in March of 2011, the countless hours of dedicated effort to draft this proposed constitution is about to end.
However, that does not mean that they will be packing their briefcases and heading home in wait for the election. The next phase of the Board’s work will entail educating the public on the benefits of making the shift from the current County Commissioner form of government to Charter Home Rule.
The benefits of such a change have been expounded upon at length within the posts of the MacRo Report Blog since its inception two years ago, so this post will not dwell on the “Why’s” of charter government.
Instead I want to focus in on the “What” that is being baked in to this new document, which will be on the November ballot for the voters of Frederick County to accept or decline.
It is the hope of the Charter Board that Frederick County’s government will shift from a committee form of rule to one with a balanced executive and legislative branch that provides more autonomy from state legislature control. Here are the key components found in the latest draft version of the proposed Charter:
A. County Council:
- This will be the legislative arm of county government. This seven-member body will pass the laws that the County Executive will be charged with carrying out.
- These seven Frederick County residents will be divided into two groups. There will be five members, each elected from one of five legislative county districts, and two others known as “At Large” members, who will be elected by the voters county wide.
- These members will be elected to serve no more than three consecutive four-year terms.
- The Council will only be allowed to act as a body and will have no power to create standing committees or delegate its functions and duties to smaller groups of its members.
- The Council will not be allowed to interfere with the day-to-day functions of the County Executive. They cannot appoint, dismiss or direct any employee of the Executive branch.
- The County Council will essentially be a part-time body that is not allowed to “sit for more than forty-five (45) days in a calendar year for the purpose of enacting legislation.”
- Compensation for the council members will be established by the Charter Board, and is expected to be considerably less than that of a county commissioner salary
B. Councilmanic Districts:
- The initial district map will be established and recommended by the Charter Board and become part of the charter document to be approved by the voters this coming November. A first draft of the map is available for public review, and at the April 25, 2012 meeting of the Charter Board, member Bob Kresslein (pictured above) presented another version of the map for consideration.
- It is expected that the board will continue its review of the district maps over the next several weeks.
- The districts are mandated to be “compact, contiguous, substantially equal in population and have common interests as a result of geography, occupation, history or existing political boundaries.”
- A Redistricting Commission will be appointed by the County Council “not later than April 1 of the year following each decennial census date.”
- The County Executive shall act as the chief operating officer of the county government.
- This individual will be responsible for carrying out (faithfully executing) the laws of the county.
- The executive will prepare and submit to the Council an annual County Budget for review and approval, as well as give an annual report.
- The executive will be elected to serve no more than two consecutive four-year terms.
- While compensation has not yet been established by the Charter Board as yet, it is expected to be in line with other counties of comparable size and likely not that different from the salary of Frederick’s county manager.
D. Budget and Finance:
- The County Executive shall appoint a Director of Finance.
- No later than April 15th of each year, the Executive will submit a budget to the County Council for the ensuing year for which at least two public hearings will be set.
- The County Council may decrease or delete certain items from the budget, but cannot increase any planned expenses. They cannot increase projected revenue in the budget either.
E. Land Use:
- The County Charter will adopt the provisions of Article 66B of the Annotated Code of Maryland to govern land use in the County.
- This is the same law that our current County Commissioner form of government operates under, so nothing substantial changes in this arena.
F. Charter Review Commission:
- Beginning in 2018 and every ten years thereafter the County Council will appoint a group of county residents to review the charter and recommend changes
- This review commission will provide a report to the County Council within a period of 18 months at which time the Review Commission will be dissolved.
- Any changes that County Council deems worthy of adoption will be placed on the ballot for voters to approve at the next general election.
G. Transitional Provisions:
- If Charter Home Rule is approved by the voter in the November 2012 general election, this form of government will become effective on December 1, 2014.
- Candidates for the seven County Council seats and the County Executive position will campaign for office with elections to be held in general election of November 2014.
- All existing governmental officers and employees will remain the same as under the current form of government.
- All existing appointed boards and commissions will remain the same: Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, etc.
- The Board of County Commissioner form of government will be abolished.
The next meeting of the Frederick County Charter Board will take place on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 7:00 PM at Winchester Hall on Church Street in downtown Frederick.
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 forTheTentacle.com.