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As Long as We Remember...

October 16, 2012

The Issue of Charter Home Rule

Earl 'Rocky' Mackintosh

Tuesday, November 6th will be the day that Frederick County voters will provide the “for” or “against” answer to Ballot Question A – County Charter.


As has been stated the Charter Board probably spent more of its time asking questions of and seeking feedback from members of our community on pluses and minuses of the current structure of our county form of government.


Anyone who followed 20-plus meetings held at Winchester Hall quickly observed that there was more than one skunk in the room on issues. Debate was lively and sometimes intense.


The fascinating outcome was something that we rarely see at the state and federal levels of our government anymore. That would be something known as “Bipartisan Compromise.”


Never in the history of the Charter Home Rule proposals throughout the state of Maryland has a charter board spent so much time to engage the community in its process to draft a people’s document.


With that stated, there have been more than a few residents of our community who have stated their opposition to the concept of charter government in general and others who have found sections within the proposed draft not to their liking.


However what I have found very interesting is that of those who have made public their opposition, most have literally seemed to come out of the woodwork s we get closer to Election Day. Very few of these people ever took the time to share their thoughts with the board as it sought feedback over the last year and a half.


I attended the Charter Discussion that was sponsored by the Sugarloaf Conservancy in Urbana on October 4th. There were four citizens who represented the adoption of the proposed charter document, and four in opposition.


While all those in favor of the effort had been engaged in the conversation throughout the drafting, surprisingly only one of the opposition members had ever attended a Charter Board meeting to share his views.


For those who remain opposed after engaging in the drafting process, while I may not agree with their positions, I appreciate their participation.


Now, of course, it is the right of anyone to refuse to part-take and withhold their opinions until the end, but one has to wonder why these people did not express their concerns to those of us who openly sought input from everyone as we took on the responsibility of drafting a people’s document.


If there is any one thing that I learned about Charter Home Rule, it is that it truly does provide an opportunity for all of our elected officials to participate in a process of clear checks and balances. It holds those we entrust clearly accountable for their decisions, actions or lack of action.


Our current county commissioner form of government puts all power in the hands of a simple majority – as few as three people. Under the proposed charter it will require no less than five elected officials to accomplish such a feat.


As the needs of our county have become broader and more sophisticated, Frederick County has experienced extreme swings in policy from one commissioner administration to the next.


Consider the policy of donations to nonprofits, regulation on business, changes in our comprehensive plan and other dramatic swings in levels of government oversight. I’m not here to debate the positives or negatives of such actions, but within a just matter a few months after being sworn in past administrations have been able to dramatically change policy – not just once, but time and again.


I think that all would agree that sudden and substantial changes in any one of these categories places a tremendous burden on the decision making processes of our citizens and organizations that provide services to our community. When there has been no consistency in county government policy, a community often loses faith in our elected officials.


Frankly, this is one of the primary reasons I fully support a change in structure to Charter Home Rule.


I support a transition to one full-time elected county executive, who is transparently accountable for carrying out the administrative duties of county government. These duties will be based upon policies set out by a seven member part-time elected body of council members.


Such a change will provide our citizenry with a closely netted and diversified representation in the establishment of policy, rather than those set by the whims of three people who may have ridden in on the partisan wave of a national election.


The opposition has expressed a number of other concerns, which I will address specifically in future postings here, on the MacRo Report Blog and elsewhere over the next three weeks.


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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