Campaign Diary – What about a Charter?
February 22, 2010 – Spent two hours discussing charter form of government in Frederick County with people who’ve gone through the experience in Maryland. I must say that this issue, historically, has been broached by many people through the years.
As faithful readers and concerned citizens know, currently, we have a county commissioner form of government featuring five county commissioners voted into office not by districts, but at-large. Our commissioners are elected every four years in a general election. This year’s general election will occur on November 2.
Prior to the general election, registered Democrats and Republicans vote for their party’s candidates in a primary election, occurring on September 14 this year. Unaffiliated voters do not vote in primary elections. No matter how many candidates file, only the top five vote-getters from each party move on to the general election. Unaffiliated voters do vote in the general election.
This year, it is too early to tell how many candidates will run in each party. As of this writing, there are two Democrats who have filed (I am one of the two), but no Republicans. However, if the recent race for the seat vacated by Commissioner Charles Jenkins is any indication, the Republicans should have many people from which to choose in September.
This is all to say that there have been increased discussions about a charter form of government in Frederick County. Is the county ready for a different form of government? What do other counties in Maryland do? How should this topic be approached? Is it worth pursuing?
With these questions in mind, I did what I always do: seek out those who are familiar with an issue, and seek their counsel. So today, I spent over an hour discussing the pros and cons of a charter form of government. To say that it was enlightening would be an understatement. I became well educated as to the approach of public discussion on a charter form of government, and the relative merits of changing our present system.
There are two options other than our present commissioner form that Frederick County could undertake: Code Home Rule and the Charter Form of Government.
According to www.mdcounties.org: In 1966 the voters approved Article XI-F of the Constitution of Maryland. This article provides for code home rule, and is supplemented by Article 25B, and other articles, of the Annotated Code of Maryland. Under Article XI-F, the county commissioners may adopt by two-thirds vote a resolution that the county become a code home rule county. The county becomes a code home rule county if a majority of the voters approve the resolution at the next ensuing general election.
In a code home rule county, the commissioners have home-rule powers and may enact legislation in the areas of the "express powers" of the charter counties, except there is no elected council or charter and the procedures pertaining to indebtedness are somewhat different. In addition, the commissioners have all the powers they previously had as a commissioner county. The General Assembly must enact laws applicable to the code home rule counties as a class. It may not enact laws applicable to a single code county.
In a Charter Form of Government, also according to www.mdcounties.org: In 1915 the voters approved Article XI-A of the Constitution of Maryland. This section provides for charter home rule, and is supplemented by Article 25A, and other articles, of the Annotated Code of Maryland. A county becomes a charter county when a charter board drafts a charter, which is then approved by the voters.
Article XI-A provides that the General Assembly shall, by public general law, grant "express powers" to charter counties; the charter counties shall have elected legislative bodies in which law making powers shall be vested; and the General Assembly may not enact laws for a single charter county in a subject matter contained in the "express powers."
Which counties in Maryland have which type of government? Here is the breakdown:
Commissioner Counties: Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, St. Mary's, Somerset and Washington.
Charter Counties: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Dorchester, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, Talbot, and Wicomico.
Code Home Rule Counties: Allegany, Caroline, Charles, Kent, Queen Anne's, and Worcester
If Frederick County was interested in exploring a charter form, then how would it happen? It is my understanding that a change could occur in two ways: 1.) either by way of petition by citizens; or 2. ) by committee created by the Board of County Commissioners to research and write a charter which would then have to be approved at the next general election.
Should this occur? I know that this will be discussed during the campaign this year. It will be interesting to see what the citizens want, and how well the candidates will listen to them.
February 25 – Coffee with the Candidate: I had my first formal coffee meeting with the citizens of Frederick County. It occurred at The Main Cup in Middletown today. Those who stopped by were friends from church or parents I knew from school. We had some discussions about what was important to them, and what was important for Middletown in relation to the county. One of the participants wanted to discuss the strained relations between the municipalities and the current Board of County Commissioners.
Overall, it was a great first-time event for me. It was an opportunity for me to talk about the issues that are important to the Middletown citizens. I am looking forward to meeting with more people in the county as I go from coffee shop to coffee shop.