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December 20, 2010

To Charter or Not

Michael Kurtianyk

Well, they did it. On December 14 the Frederick Board of County Commissioners voted 4-0 to appoint a charter writing board for a new form of county government. Long time readers know that I have been an advocate for this change.


Let’s focus on the process of how this could be achieved.


Following the Maryland State Constitution, there are two ways a county could approach this: initiate a charter board by petition, or initiate it with a vote by the current elected officials. Our commissioners chose the latter.


Had they chosen the former, a petition garnering five percent (or 6,884) of registered voters (137,600) would have been considered successful.


County voters do have the right to contest any of the appointments, by a petition signed by three percent (or 4,128) of registered voters. This means that if someone is not happy about the appointment of a member or members, then that person would need to obtain more than 4,000 signatures. If this is achieved, it would trigger a special election to decide the makeup of the charter board. The window is narrow here: petitioners only have 60 days in which to gain the legitimate number of signatures required.


Once the charter board is appointed, it meets and prepares a charter within 18 months of its appointment. Once the charter is prepared, the Board of County Commissioners has to publish it twice within 30 days. The clock begins to tick when the charter is presented to the commissioners.


An election would then be held. The vote could be held in a special election or during the next regularly scheduled general election. The county will save between $150,000 and $200,000 if the vote on the charter is held on the same day as the 2012 presidential election (November 6, 2012).


Spending the extra money on a special election seems foolhardy to me, and I think the commissioners feel the same way.


The voting for or against the charter would be done within 30 to 90 days after the publication of the charter.


If a majority of voters participating approve the charter, it would take effect after the 2014 election.


Commissioner Paul Smith raised a good question during the discussion: “Are there any restrictions as to who can or cannot be on the charter board?”


County Attorney John Mathias said no, so long as the charter board member is a registered voter in Frederick County.


So, with the motion passing 4-0 (Commissioner David Gray was absent), what are the next steps?


The county will advertise for those interested in serving on the charter board on or about January 2, 2011. There will be an interview process, and by March 1 of next year, a charter board will be in place.


So far the commissioners have not decided how many county voters will be appointed to this board. Under discussion at present is a board made up of either five, seven or nine members. Likely before making that decision the commissioners will look at the pool of applicants and consider the opinions of the public.


This decision to seek a change in our local government took all of 27 minutes.


Next Week: The different types of government available under Maryland’s Constitution.


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