Slew of County Charter Changes Clog November Ballots
Changes include how a vacancy is filled on the council to an extension for budget officials to prepare the county budget.
The Anne Arundel County Council has approved more than a dozen changes to the county's charter, all of which will be on the ballot in November.
When Anne Arundel County voters arrive at the polls, they'll not only be voting on the DREAM Act and same-sex marriage, but also deciding the fate of 15 county charter amendments—ranging from how convicted county councilmen should be treated to enacting an August recess for the council.
Councilman Jamie Benoit (D-4th District), who drafted many of the proposed charter amendments, criticized the county's governing document, calling it a weak link.
"It's almost impossible to imagine a charter with a weaker Legislature," Benoit said.
One of the ways Benoit said the county could restore some of its power is to limit the County Executive's line-item veto power to comprehensive rezoning bills, which happen once every decade.
The change would be a fundamental shift in authority.
Councilman Chris Trumbauer (D-6th District), said he has seen a bill that sailed through the council, but after it was altered by the executive's office, it became a different bill.
Some county officials struck back, saying the executive's line-item veto power was fought for by the men who crafted the county's charter.
"The framers of the charter added it," said Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond. "The line item veto allows the executive to veto a bad part of a good bill. That's the essence of what we're talking about."
Throughout the arguments, it didn't look like the resolution would make it through, requiring a supermajority vote among the council—five votes among seven members.
But in a surprise move, Council Chairman Derek Fink (R-3rd District) voted in favor of the measure, causing some of his colleagues to raise their eyebrows. The resolution passed by a 5-2 vote, with Councilmen Dick Ladd and John Grasso voting no. It will ultimately be on the ballot in November for voters to decide.
At the end of the council meeting, Trumbauer introduced a resolution that lists the charter amendments that will be on the November ballot in a prioritized order (see attached resolution).
The full list of charter amendments:
- Removing a County Executive if they are convicted or fail to perform duties(Resolution 32-12)
- Removing a County Councilman if they are convicted or fail to perform duties(Resolution 33-12)
- Allowing State Central Committee to fill a County Council vacancy if the council cannot decide within 30 days. (Resolution 45-12)
- Reserves funds for retired county employees' healthcare benefits (Resolution 34-12)
- Limits the County Executive's line-item veto power to comprehensive rezoning items only (Resolution 47-12)
- Changes the start of a County Councilman's term from the time of election to the first Monday in December (Resolution 48-12)
- Provides for a legislative recess for the County Council in the month of August (Resolution 40-12)
- Changes the four-year audit process to an annual audit process (Resolution 38-12)
- Requires bond premiums garnered from county bonds be used exclusively for capital improvement projects funded by bonds (Resolution 50-12)
- Extends budget submittal deadline from June 1 to June 15 (Resolution 54-12)
- Changes the number of members on the Charter Review Commission to seven, representing one from each Councilmanic District (Resolution 35-12)
- Limits Board of Appeals members to serve a maximum of two terms (Resolution 36-12)
- Limits County Ethics Commission members to serve a maximum of two terms (Resolution 49-12)
- Bills passed by the County Council but not signed by the County Executive become law 10 days after presentation (Resolution 39-12)
- Defines "copy" as a document, or electronic copy. (Resolution 55-12—not yet online)
How to Fill A Vacancy
Two charter amendments would ouster a County Executive or County Councilman from office if they are convicted of a felony, and another sets the rules on how these vacancies are filled.
The legislation would resolve a conflict the council experienced firsthand earlier this year.
In January, the Council voted to vacate the District 1 seat a few days before former Councilman Daryl Jones began serving a five-month federal prison sentence, on the grounds that Jones would no longer be living in the district that he was elected to represent. The motion was challenged in court, but ultimately a judge ruled in favor of the council.
In February, after more than 100 deadlocked votes over the successor, the council was stuck in a 3-3 tie between two candidates. A month later, Peter Smith, of Severn, was finally selected as the new representative for the 1st District.
A new charter amendment would ensure that kind of dispute doesn't go any longer than 30 days.
Under the new legislation, if the council cannot choose a successor in that scenario, the Central Committee of the former councilman's political party would make a decision. Their choice would then be appointed by the County Executive.
Before voting on Monday, Smith gave his approval.
"At the moment, there is a big hole in the way that we fill appointments, and this is a mechanism that allows us to break ties," Smith said.
But during public testimony, a half-dozen members of the audience said they wanted a special election to be called to determine the vote.
Robert Yeatman, who hosted an online poll over this issue, said it should be up to the people to determine who represents them. Former county executive candidate Joanna Conti also supported a special election. She noted that the cost of a special election is high, between $200,000 and $1.2 million, but said it was worth it.
Councilman Jerry Walker (R-7th District), of Gambrills, said he was in favor of a special election, but now was not the time to deal with that issue. He said he wanted to get that on the ballot in 2014, but not this year.
"I believe it's worth the cost," Walker said.