After 9/11, Maryland’s county executives were called to Annapolis to talk about security concerns, but Frederick County was excluded because it has a commission form of government. Sue Hecht, a former state delegate, recalled the snub to members of the charter writing board earlier this week.
“Still today, we are not seen as strongly as the big eight,” Hecht said. “This [charter] will put us where we need to be.”
Hecht was among about 50 people who showed up at Winchester Hall for a public hearing on the draft of the 30-page charter document, a blueprint for a home rule form of county government. Charter home rule would give the county more autonomy over how it governs itself. The commission form of government, in place in Frederick County since 1851, limits legislation that commissioners can pass, and gives more authority to the Maryland General Assembly.
In the late 1950s and again in 1991, county residents voted down a charter. In 1991, 67 percent opposed a charter government.
A nine-member committee wrote and refined the charter document in the past 16 months, and once approved, it will appear on the November ballot. If charter passes in November, voters will elect a county executive, five council members representing five county districts, and two at-large members.
Joan Acquilino, a member of the board, said after the meeting that Hecht’s comment about Frederick County’s exclusion from a state discussion on security issues after 9/11 really resonated with her.
“Frederick County never got called to the table with the governor talking about safety and security statewide,” Acquilino said. “If, for nothing else, that’s reason to go with charter.”
The charter board will vote on the charter in the next month, but likely will tweak some portions of the draft in response to comments made at the public hearing, Acquilino said.
The dozen people who spoke up during the hearing were in favor of charter, but had concerns about the salary for council members, budget authority of the county executive, and referendum. In the draft document, the county executive presents a budget to the council members who can only delete or decrease budget items, not add anything. Many speakers called for a process that allows for more negotiation and compromise.
“The budget issue surprised me slightly, but that can be tweaked or fixed. We haven’t talked about it, but walking out that night, we thought we could do something that might appease people,” Acquilino said.
The salary for the county executive is listed at $95,000 with a two-term limit, while council members can serve up to three terms and will earn $22,000. The salary gap, some said, sends the wrong message.
Valerie Dale of New Market told the charter board that she had “serious concerns” about the pay discrepancy. Frederick city alderman make $25,000, and county officials should make more. “The message is that the council member’s job is less important than the other equivalent jobs on the board of aldermen,” Dale said.
Linda Norris-Waldt, a 2010 commissioner candidate and charter board applicant, praised the document and charter government for making government more efficient. The current form of government, she said, moves as “slow as molasses.”
“It’s time to move on to bigger and better things,” Norris-Waldt said.
The charter board meets next at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10 at Winchester Hall. To read the charter draft, visit www.frederickcountymd.gov.