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September 4, 2012

Charter: Two Reasons to Vote "Yes"

Earl 'Rocky' Mackintosh

The Frederick News Post ran an editorial last week endorsing the Charter of Frederick County proposed by the Frederick County Charter Board.


As I read it, I was struck by the following statement:


“Most importantly, what the prospect of charter government promises is more autonomy from the state.”


I absolutely agree – the most important aspect of charter government is, as the News-Post put it, “… more freedom from the state Legislature, and more power for the county to determine the county's direction.”


Clear enough; and it is true.


In fact the draft charter does provide Frederick County more legislative autonomy from the state by providing county government the ability to make more (but not all) local issue decisions in Winchester Hall, rather than having to wait for the entire Maryland State legislature once in session to grant approval for a proposed ordinance that only impacts Frederick County.


Our local government should have as much sovereignty as possible to ensure that Frederick County’s lifestyle is preserved and growth is managed as the residents of our community see fit.


As was highlighted in “Lessons from the New Third World,” many counties and municipalities across the U.S. are struggling to handle additional financial burdens as states cut funding in the wake of declining real estate tax revenues, investment losses and the rapidly increasing weight of public pension obligations.


A charter form of government clearly defines its elected county executive as the one who is accountable for dealing with such issues. Given the history of five elected county commissioners, who always seem to shift the blame for policy failures on one of their own, this alone will be a refreshing change.


In addition, as stated here in previous posts of the MacRo Report Blog, the autonomy gained through adopting a Charter Home Rule form of government, combined with Frederick being the eighth most populous county in the state, will provide our county executive the opportunity to have a seat at the table with those other seven executives at their regular meetings with the governor.


Those "Big Seven" counties including Baltimore, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Howard and, of course, Montgomery carry a great deal of political clout with the powers in the State House. Given their dense populations and the single influence of their individual county executives, these counties, being metropolitan centered by nature often have very different needs than those of Frederick County residents.


Oddly enough, Frederick County, with over 230,000 residents, is made up of 13 different local governmental jurisdictions: 12 municipal governments, all of which are structured under the doctrine of Charter Home Rule, and then there is our county government which operates under a rule by a majority of three county commissioners.


That being the case, a large percentage of our citizens are already governed under Charter Home Rule by the fact that they live within one of the various municipal districts of Frederick City, Walkersville, Woodsboro, Middletown, Thurmont, Brunswick, Rosemont, Burkittsville, Myersville, Emmitsburg, New Market and Mount Airy.


It's ironic that while all these jurisdictions fall under the auspices of the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners, in many ways the Mayor of The City of Frederick has a louder voice in Annapolis than the president of the county board.


That is what the Charter Home Rule form of government gives those jurisdictions that adopt it.


The structure that most municipalities operate under separates the powers of government with an elected executive, who is responsible for administering the policies set by a five to seven member legislative council. In this way the lines of legislative and administrative duties do not get blurred. As a result more balanced, stable and reliable policies transition from one administration to the next.


It's time for Frederick County to take greater control of local decisions, while at the same time have more influence on state policy issues that impact the social and economic environment of our citizens.


These are only two reasons why a vote "YES" this November 6th on the ballot question: Do you approve the adoption of the Charter of Frederick County proposed by the Frederick County Charter Board?


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.


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