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Repeal Charter Government in Frederick County

Imagine that an obstreperous council member has stifled the legislative process to the point that meetings result in verbal slugfests over how to enforce standards of decorum!

REPEAL_CHARTER_070215Did Frederick County voters make the right decision to adopt Charter Home Rule as the new form of government in November of 2012?

There are many who feel very strongly that it was a bad move.  Just ask Walter T. Mills, local “Barber Extraordinaire” as he was once referred to by Blaine Young on his former weekly afternoon talk show on WFMD radio.

I ran into W.T. a few weeks ago at Gladchuk Bros. Restaurant, his favorite lunchtime watering hole that is situated just a matter of steps from his place of business.  He informed me that he was circulating a petition to repeal charter in Frederick County.

Over the years he and I have shared common political views on a number of issues, especially in the local political arena.  But on the issue of governing structure, our views differed greatly when then County Commissioner President Blaine Young appointed me and eleven others to serve on the Charter Writing Board in 2011.  Our charge was to draft a document that would establish a charter form of government to replace the century plus old county commissioner structure. Mills was never a fan of that plan.

Young was a strong supporter of the cause and vied that before he left office, the citizens of Frederick County would adopt charter home rule as their new form of government.

He got his wish.

Fast forward four years, and even Blaine Young has changed his tune. In a June 16, 2015 Facebook post, he said:

The biggest mistake I made in my political career besides running again was Charter Government. I am signing the petition to put it on the ballot to have it repealed.

Now, granted, he did not fare well in his run for county executive against Jan Gardner, who walked away with a landslide victory last November.  The questions still persists however:  Did Jan actually win or did Blaine lose?

And then there are the two other former commissioners, Kirby Delauter and Billy Shreve, who won seats on the county council last year as well. For what it’s worth the three former republican county commissioners put themselves in a few “foot in mouth” situations that they may or may not regret.

While Young need not worry any longer, Delauter and Shreve have had their share of issues as they transition from their roles as county commissioners to that of council members. I’d like to think that it is actually the transition that is the primary issue, but if you were to ask them you’d hear a different answer.

While I differ with writer Shannon Green on a few of her points, I agree with the concluding remarks of her June 22, 2015 op-ed piece in the Frederick News Post entitled Observations on Charter Government.

We want council members who are thoughtful, respectful and deliberate. We want people who have experience with the issues and actually care what their constituents think. We want our snow plowed, our schools funded, our county workers well-paid and trained, parks to play and relax in, and medical services for those who cannot afford it.  We don’t want grandstanding, name-calling, disrespectful people representing our interests.

Many have referred to this “Bad Behavior” as an embarrassment to Frederick County as it enters the big leagues and gets a “seat at the table” with the 10 other Maryland charter counties.

Statements like these seem to imply that those other ten counties all have their acts together and never experience “grandstanding, name-calling and disrespectful actions” among their council members.

Could it be that by adopting the charter home rule form of government, the worst was brought out of our local politicians?

In preparing for this post, I surfed the web for actual cases where action was actually taken to repeal a charter form of government.  While I’m sure there must be a case somewhere, the best I could find was where in 1937 members of a charter revision committee in the city of Sandusky, Ohio, were unsuccessful in an attempt to gain a majority to repeal its charter.

But when it came to the issue of bad behavior amongst the ranks of county council members in Maryland, well, it was much easier to find a match.

It seems that Cecil County, which adopted its charter just two years before we did, had its share of grandstanding, name-calling and disrespectful actions by council members in their first two years of existence,

Consider the following excerpts from articles written by Nancy Schwerzler, the editor of The Cecil Times:

  1. The council spent much of its … existence arguing over how members should behave, dissolved into yet another verbal slugfest Tuesday over how to enforce standards of ‘decorum’
  2. [One council member sought] to impose order and gavel [the] offending Councilors to silence, an apology, or in the extreme, banishment from a meeting
  3. [Council member] was tired of the many months of ‘childish antics’ and ‘rhetorical turmoil’ that the Council had endured at the hands of a [fellow council member] being an ‘obstreperous individual’

After reading all this, I placed call to Cecil County Council President Robert Hodge to seek out a parallel to what the Frederick County Council is experiencing.

He said that the problem totally centered on one council member and a former county commissioner.  She took the position that it was “her way or the highway.”  If she didn’t get her way, she ignored the rules by grandstanding, name-calling and being disrespectful to her fellow members … because she was right, no matter what.

In last year’s election that ‘obstreperous individual’ ran for re-election and lost by a wide margin.

Hodge stated that the new council is not experiencing the bad behavior issues of their initial two years, and while the members share differing views on any number of issues, they are getting the people’s work done in a thoughtful, respectful and deliberate manner.

I asked President Hodge, who was opposed to and did not vote for charter government, if he thinks now that Cecil County voters still support the change. His response:

“No doubt about it … Number one: I think that charter still has the potential to be the most effective – responsive [form of] government.

“Number two: There is definitely going to be glitches; there’s definitely going to be personality problems over time, but again I am going to tell you that I don’t think it will be any worse or any better than any other form of government.”

Repeal our charter?

I think not.

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The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He has been an active member of the Frederick, Maryland community for over four decades.  He has served as chairman of the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital and as a member of the Frederick County Charter Board from 2010 to 2012, to name a few.


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