By Derek Fink
Councilman, District 3
Once every 10 years, the Anne Arundel County Council forms a charter review committee. In short, this committee is responsible for reviewing the county charter and identifying areas that should be changed, updated or perhaps removed.
As opposed to the United States Constitution, which is rarely changed, the county charter is a living, breathing document that was intentionally designed to reflect the issues of the day.
Accordingly, like clockwork, once every 10 years a group of hard-working volunteers appointed by the council begin the arduous process of examining the charter and the needs of the community, then determine if there is a necessity to recommend the charter be changed.
The charter review commission makes their recommendations to the county council, then the council reviews the recommendations and votes. The county council supported 15 amendments to present to the citizens of Anne Arundel County. These amendments must now be ratified by you this fall.
Since voting is just now beginning for absentee voters and early voting starts soon, I thought this would be a good opportunity to review the charter amendments as well as my recommendations.
Question A is a calendar amendment which requires the county executive to submit the budget in a timely manner. I am FOR Question A.
Questions B and C allow the council to remove the county executive and a county councilmember from office with an affirmative vote of at least five county council members for certain unacceptable acts by the elected official and also requires them to forfeit future benefits. I am FOR Questions B and C.
Question D provides that if the county council cannot agree on a replacement for a vacancy on the county council, the county executive will follow a pre-determined process to fill the vacancy. I am FOR Question D.
Question E removes the retiree health benefits from the general fund and places them in a dedicated trust. I am FOR Question E.
Question F limits the county executives veto power. I am AGAINST Question F. While I am on the council and do not appreciate when the county executive uses his veto power to thwart council legislation, it is a vital tool to ensure proper checks and balances. I oppose this charter amendment and believe it is a good tool to ensure a balance of power. To do otherwise shifts too much power into the hands of the county council.
Question G clarifies the date a council members term begins is the date they are sworn in. I am FOR Question G.
Question H creates a legislative recess for county council members during the month of August unless a majority of the council members vote to void the recess. I am FOR Question H.
Question I requires the county to audit with a certified public accountant all county offices, departments and agencies. I am FOR Question I.
Question J provides that if there is any "extra" money generated from the issuance of county bonds, that money be dedicated to the purpose of the bonds and is not to be moved into the countys general fund. I am FOR Question J.
Question K increases the number of members on the charter review commission by two members. I am AGAINST Question K.
This may seem like an innocuous amendment. However, what it really does is needlessly introduce partisan politics into the charter review commission. The commission currently has five members, which forces the county council to come to a consensus when choosing the five members. If we move to seven members, each council member will simply choose a single member. This will simply be a mirror of the then current county council. If the charter review commission is simply going to mirror the county council, then the county council may as well act as the charter review commission.
Questions L and M limit the number of terms a person may serve on the countys Board of Appeals and the countys Ethics Commission to two terms. I am FOR Questions L and M.
Question N establishes a date when an unsigned bill becomes law. I am FOR Question N.
Question O allows the county to satisfy the charter requirement of paper copies with electronic copies. I am FOR Question O.
Of the 15 charter amendments, I support 13 of them and I oppose two. Most of these amendments are well-thought-out and designed to address a specific problem. The only two provisions I oppose have to do with the county council attempting to get more power than it currently has, first from the county executive (via restricting the veto power) and second from the charter review commission.
Even though the council would otherwise benefit, I do not think it is in the best interest of the county to allow the county council to grab more power. Things are just fine where they are. Checks and balances and separation of power are the backbone of our democracy.
Please remember to vote this fall and dont forgo the 15 charter review amendments.