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Frederick County Charter Home Rule Update

Revisiting the range of powers granted to a county executive

Charter Town Hall Meeting in Brunswick

The ruckus continues over the issue of valid signatures for the petition effort to unseat the appointed Charter Writing Board.  However the board continues to press on with its “unprecedented” outreach effort.  As of this posting the board has completed nine public and private meetings/presentations to the Frederick community, including groups in Brunswick, Ijamsville and Frederick.  There are another 16 programs scheduled with more in the works.

The term “unprecedented” is used to emphasize the fact that of all the charter home rule efforts in the last 30 plus years no charter writing board in the state of Maryland – appointed or elected – has ever put forth any pre-writing educational/listening campaign the voters of their county.

Strong county executive defined

The of the Frederick County Charter Board took place on June 2, 2011.  In our quest to identify an outside consultant for the committee work use as a charter writing resource, Chairman Ken Coffey invited Jeanne E. Bilanin, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Institute for Governmental Service and Research, University of Maryland.

Dr. Bilanin provided the board with an extensive amount of information that she had prepared for other charter efforts.  Several questions were thrown at her.  One in particular was “What makes a strong county executive?”

Her answer was interesting when looked at the context of the range of authority that a county executive can be empowered with.  Consider that on the lowest level of power a county executive is an appointed position by the county council with no more responsibilities than that of a county manager.

On the other side of the spectrum, Dr. Bilanin stated that with the exception of two counties with appointed execs, the eight others are what she would consider “strong.”

These powers include:

  1. ability to hire and fire department heads at will
  2. veto powers
  3. power and control over the budget

The question that this charter board will have to weigh is how powers like these will balance against the legislative powers of a county council.

And how do these powers compare to those of mayors and/or Burgesses of the twelve municipal charter governments we have in Frederick County?

Reaching out to other counties

Part of the education process that the charter board is pursuing for the community is to invite current and former county executives and council members for other counties.

This past weekend I had the privilege of meeting David R. Craig, County Executive for Harford County, Maryland.  We spoke briefly about the charge given Frederick County’s charter board and he enthusiastically offered to come to offer his perspective on his role in his county government.

In speaking with Chairman Coffey earlier this week, it appears that the board may try to pull together a panel discussion with several other county execs and council members alter in the summer or early fall.

Stay tuned!

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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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