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November 6, 2019

The Ayes Have It

Jason Miller

Frederick County's Charter Review Commission has turned a Charter mandate into a complete waste of taxpayer money and county staff time. Having attended two of its meetings back to back, the nature of the commission – both in vision and in function – is terribly flawed.


The commission's sole purview is to focus on a more effective, efficient, and economic Charter Government in Frederick County. Sadly, the 4 to 3 majority on the commission correlates to the 4 to 3 partisan majority of Democrats to Republicans on the Frederick County Council.


Any deviation from the established provisions invoked since Charter Government passed, or daring to call for any meaningful reform to the power of, or the functional process governing Frederick County is not likely to happen.


Why? Because such gestures are a direct reflection of a failure – a failure by those whose charge it was, and whose ultimate responsibility it was, to lay the Charter’s practical foundation.


Such a failure, either small or large, would rest squarely on the part of the county executive or the County Council that established the foundation upon which the current charter government stands – both historically controlled by a single party. Yes, Bud Otis was a Democrat Party puppet. To their credit, Democrats used him for all intents and purposes and then tossed him aside when he no longer catered to their needs.


The current Frederick County Council has the ultimate authority on every suggestion the Charter Review Commission makes. Thus it behooves those political appointees on the review commission to pass on to the County Council that which could blessed by a vote as ballot referendum question and not needing 20,000-plus signatures for ballot access.


This dichotomy was on full display during a 4 to 3 vote by the Charter Review Commission to workshop charter amendment language that, if enacted, violates state law. The charter language being discussed – and perhaps sent to a workshop – is bent on curtailing the independent authority of the Frederick County Sheriff. These powers, possibly being curtailed; are granted to the sheriff under the Maryland State Constitution. As such, those powers can't simply be curtailed via a charter amendment.


The commission's majority showed a complete disregard for the facts of law which resulted in its further disregard of legal advice that it sought from the county attorney, John Mathias, on the matter in the first place. Three commissioners cautioned their four colleagues on the legal ramifications to their proposed path but to no avail. This a startlingly cavalier departure from the established powers derived from state law, which likely sets the stage for a showdown with Annapolis over ultimate powers of charter government in Maryland.


This blatantly partisan homage to a select few offers a clarion example of the partisan rancor that has metastasized itself on the Charter Review Commission itself. Like Captain Ahab chasing his whale, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins needs to be dealt with.


When the old scores are settled and the wordsmithing is done, the real treat begins. Like a legislative buffet, the Frederick County Council can take or leave each suggestion in the report from the commission. More worrisome still is the fact that the Frederick County Council could – by all accounts – ignore the report in its entirety. No political or practical legislative ramification requires the County Council to address any suggestions addressed in the report.


When one looks back historically, one seldom finds a reference of a local government curtailing its own power through majority consensus. More often than not, hypocrisy abounds as would be partisan activists clamor for reforms until, by divine providence, they themselves are elected to office. Alas, the reforms are no longer needed once the reformers are nestled at the local dais. Such is the case here.


The commission will likely not approve any measure that is beyond the scope of current partisan makeup of the Frederick County Council. The commission can count the votes just like anyone else. The one exception to this rule of thumb might likely be a recently passed recommendation for amending the charter to allow for an increase in both County Councils pay with a fulltime benefits package for council members, a measure which passed 4 to 3 at the October 28 meeting


The vote was along party lines given the nature of who was appointed by whom. That was easy. Name a politician who wouldn’t vote to raise their pay if the idea is cleverly branded as someone else’s proposal.


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
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