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Debunking Assumptions and Mythology about Frederick County’s New Charter Writing Board

Will so-called nasty real estate developer interests hover over the board and negatively influence the charter home rule proposal in 2010?

Debunking The Myths of Charter GovernmentGosh, I may not know what I have gotten myself into, with my recent appointment to the Charter Writing Board.

It seems that over the airways, through commentary treads of social media and local online news outlets, some are very concerned that the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners did not include enough “meaningful diversity” in their selection process.

You must know by now that out of the initial 52 applicants, the Commissioners whittled the number down to 15 who were interviewed last Thursday evening.  It was a marathon that began at 6:45 PM and ended four hours later with the selection of nine members and three alternates.

A few are not happy with the choices and/or the process.

Is a referendum necessary?

There is apparently a move or two afoot to gather up enough signatures on petitions to call for a county-wide referendum vote to include some who were not selected to serve on the charter board.  Is it really necessary for county taxpayers to incur the cost of a special election that is expected to cost around $150,000?

Since last Thursday, I have had the opportunity to talk with over half of the selected members, and from what I can tell this is a very open minded group.  My observation is that there are no preconceived notions about what a charter should look like.

The consensus that I get from those with whom I have spoken clearly see themselves as information seekers from the Frederick County community at large.   They also want to educate themselves as much as possible and give all voters an opportunity learn about the advantages and disadvantages of what charter home rule would mean for the county.

I think this group will be taking their task to heart and will draft a document that is what they believe the people want.

What about the idea of an elected county executive?

Should the county adopt a charter government that includes county executive and a council who are all elected members?  … and how will the power of the two bodies be balanced out?

Or will the charter propose that a county council be elected, which will then appoint a county manager?

As I have stated in previous posts on the MacRo Report Blog, I think that the definition of a successful charter effort is not whether a proposal is approved, but how well the community becomes engaged in the process that the board lays out.

My personal goal is to look for as many opportunities as I can to hear from the people about what they like about the current county commissioner form of government and what they do not like.

While I have stated many times that my experience has shown me that an organization of the size of our county government should have one primary administrator – be it a county manager or  executive – who has the authority to manage its employees.

This new Board of County Commissioners has taken it upon themselves to restructure in such away that county manager Barry Stanton has more administrative authority.  From my discussions with several employees and Mr. Stanton, it seems that his clearly defined authority is making a difference with staff, as they have a clearer understanding of who is in charge.  This in and of itself is a significant change from the micro-management style of past boards.

But there does seem to be a fear that with charter home rule, Frederick County is destined to have an overbearing elected county executive with strong powers that can be influenced by evil forces!

May I suggest those who share that feeling express themselves when time comes.

With a elected executive is Frederick destined to bloat to the size of Montgomery and/or Prince Georges County?

While there are plenty examples in these times of wasteful and overreaching governmental structures, I don’t think it is fair for our residents to assume that with the establishment of charter home rule, we are destined to fall in to the trap as those of our neighbors to east.

On the contrary, it may be better for us to first start with the twelve charter jurisdictions that we are much more familiar within the incorporated boundaries of our county.

Consider that fact that Frederick City, Thurmont, Emmitsburg, Middletown, Brunswick, Mt Airy, Walkersville, Woodsboro, New Market, Myersville, Rosemont and Burkittsville are all municipal charter governments.  Each has a elected executive branch member in the form of a Burgess or Mayor, as well as legislative body in the form of aldermen or council members.

I must ask where has the cry been to abolish the charters or the elected executive positions of these communities?  I have never once heard anyone suggest that.

Get involved and give it a chance!

Twenty years ago an appointed charter board drafted a proposed charter for Frederick County. Washington County has appointed a charter board three times in the last few decades.  In all four of these cases the voters rejected the proposals.


I’ve spoken to former members of boards from both counties.  What I heard loud and clear was that in all cases the appointed boards focused on the literal task of  writing a charter … and gave little focus to  minimal community outreach in the early stages of the process.  To that end, I believe they completely missed the real point of their job.

There may be 9 members and 3 alternates who have been selected to serve on the charter board this time around, but if this group does not make it a priority to listen to the “meaningful diversity” of voices of the people of Frederick County, it might as well disband now.

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The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He also writes for

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