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The Tentacle


October 30, 2012

Debunking Five Myths About Charter Government

Earl 'Rocky' Mackintosh

As Election Day one week away draws near, there have been a vocal minority who have used some of the following statements to express opposition ballot Question A – the proposed charter for Frederick County.

 

This is the first article that will provide a rebuttal to the mythology of the contrarian view.

 

  1. The current County Commissioner structure works fine. – Not really. The current system has become very dysfunctional:

 

a.      Consider the number of times over the last 20 years that policies have shifted dramatically from one administration to another. All it takes is three like-minded individuals to overturn the actions of a previous board. This lack of consistency and reliability in government policies has contributed to business indecisiveness as well as the polarization of our electorate. Under charter the executive and legislative functions of county government will be split, and it will take five votes to make policy, which will force a higher level of compromise among our elected officials.

 

b.     County employees currently have had 5 bosses. It has often been the case where more than one commissioner has directed a county employee in opposing directions. Taxpayer dollars are wasted when employees do not have clear understanding of policy. Under charter the County Executive will be the sole administrator of policies set by the County Council.

 

c.      More often than not at a state level, county commissioner representatives are not given the same respect or consulted in the development of new policy as counties that have an elected County Executive. Under charter the Frederick County executive will be provided more opportunity to influence policy for Frederick County that is made at the state level.

 

  1. I’m for charter, just not this charter!Voters who favor charter government should recognize that the hardest part of adopting any charter document is having the voters approve the concept of Home Rule. The finer points of the charter itself can be amended and approved by the voters as provided for in the document during each review period ... the first review will take place five years after the charter is adopted.

 

  1. Having seven council members will only add to the size of government. The key difference under the proposed charter is that the county will no longer have five full-time county commissioners, but seven part-time council members and one full-time county executive. These seven council members will be paid a total of $67,500 less that our current five county commissioners, and at the same time county residents will have a closer connection to their elected officials through council districts.

 

  1. All council members should be elected at-large with no councilmanic districts. – There are several reasons why districts were made part of the proposed charter … here are a few:

 

a.      Greater representation for voters. Under the proposed charter, the county will be divided into five districts of equal population and demographic mix. A council member from a district will represent approximately 40,000 residents, which will assure that local community issues will be represented in county government. Consider the past county commissioner administrations that did not have residents of the City of Frederick on the board, in which there was great tension between the county and city governments. Circumstances such as this have wasted taxpayer dollars.

 

b.     Greater opportunities for candidates to get into office. The costs of political campaigns continue to rise as the population of a community grows. Candidates from districts will face a significantly lower cost to get into office that those involved in a county-wide race. At the same time, council members from districts will have the same voting authority as at-large members.

 

  1. Districts will cause political gerrymandering. Extremely unlikely! Paragraph (c), Section 214 of Article 2 in the proposed charter states that any Council District “shall be compact, contiguous, substantially equal in population, and have common interests as a result of geography, occupation, history, or existing political boundaries.” Any new district plan will be made available at a public hearing and must be approved by the executive and a majority of the county council.

 

The next post will provide rebuttals to concerns over the power of the county executive, lobbyist activity, the budget process, subpoena power and the role of the county sheriff.

 

Rocky Mackintosh is the owner of a land and commercial real estate firm based in Frederick. He is also the editor of the MacRo Report Blog.

 

rocky@macroltd.com

 

[Editors Note: The “next post” referred to in the last paragraph of Mr. Mackintosh’s column above will appear on the MacRo Report Blog.]

 



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