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January 3, 2011

Why Charter Government!

Michael Kurtianyk

The time has come for us to move forward with changing our form of government. The Board of County Commissioners should be congratulated for moving forward with putting this item, not only on the agenda, but following legal counsel’s advice on how to proceed.


If all goes well, and people don’t undermine the system through unnecessary delays, we will have this in front of the Frederick County voters on the November 2012 ballot. This is important, because, though there are no local elections, people tend to turn out for presidential elections more so than at other times.


So, why move forward?


Frederick County needs better representation in Annapolis.


Only the counties that currently have a county executive (Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, Cecil (as of November 2010), Dorchester, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Talbot, and Wicomico) along with Baltimore City have a seat at the Annapolis table.


On the last Frederick board, only Commissioner Jan Gardner went to Annapolis to speak on behalf of Frederick County. When she did so, she had to essentially say: “Thanks for listening, but I’ll have to get back to you. I have to talk to the other four commissioners, who, by the way, aren’t here with me.”


These delays make Frederick County a second-tier county in Annapolis, and we will continue to be treated as such until we change our form of government.


Currently, the five commissioners handle both the legislative and executive branches of government. Why can’t we have a form of government where we have a clear leader handling the executive powers, and a county council handling the legislative work load? One leader would speak for Frederick County (instead of five), and a council making sure that the rest of the voices are heard.


The key here would be to make sure that – in the charter – there is a strong checks-and-balance system so that the county executive is held accountable every step of the way. We do not want what happened in Prince George’s County to happen here.


If charter government can work at the municipal level, then why can’t it work at the county level? We have a mayor/alderman-style system in each of our county municipalities already.


It is important that we not only have a charter that provides for a strong council, but the makeup of the council will be very important. With a county executive handling the executive duties, the council would need to represent areas of Frederick County.


Among the ideas discussed would be dividing the county geographically, with seven council members representing districts: four would represent a different quadrant. One would represent the Northeast quadrant; one the northwest; one from the southwest; and one from the southeast. These quadrants would be outside, and not include, the City of Frederick. Added to these four would be two council members representing the City of Frederick. A seventh would be at-large.


Another suggestion would be to have five-to-seven council members being at-large. The case for this proposal is that it would eliminate one district from becoming too strong. However, with this approach, there could be an area of Frederick County that would not be adequately represented.


Readers of my columns know that I have been a strong proponent of the change of government from the beginning. However, this does not mean that I will support the charter when it’s written. To me, it depends on what the final draft looks like.


Until then, I support this endeavor and will continue to be a vocal proponent.


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