Upper Marlboro board approves measure expanding check-writing authority -- Gazette.Net


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Upper Marlboro officials said it will soon be a lot easier to pay the town’s bills.

Members of the town’s board of commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to amend the town’s charter to allow additional officials to sign checks on behalf of the town government. Currently, only the commissioner designated to be treasurer can do the physical act of spending town money.

Stephen Sonnett, board of commissioners president, said before the meeting Tuesday that the measure is an attempt to “freshen up” an often archaic charter. Although commissioner and treasurer Jim Storey is rarely unavailable to do the duty, a problem with getting checks out does occasionally arise, Sonnett said.

“Periodically, we find something that we think should be changed,” Sonnett said. “We still have a measure [on the charter] requiring the county to pay us $600 for the operation of the town, and I’m not sure that’s ever been enforced.”

Sonnett pointed out that although the charter amendment will give more people access to the town’s coffers, he said the measure also provides safeguards.

“It instructs the board to adopt a dollar figure above which both the treasurer and the president have to sign the checks together,” Sonnett said. “When you do these charter changes, you need to have the flexibility so you don’t have to keep changing it as you go along, but at the same time have enough rules so town government can’t go crazy.”

Sonnett said the commissioners are still working out what the maximum amount a single person can sign a check for, but hope to have it ironed out in the coming months.

Storey said after the meeting Tuesday that the new measure gives the town “a little more latitude” to be able to operate efficiently.

“It’s a problem if I’m not available and there’s a time constraint,” Storey said. “Small business operations don’t have the financial flexibility [to wait a few days]. They need the money up front so they can get the materials required for the job.”

But former commissioner George Leonnig, who said he was treasurer during his time on the board, said he wasn’t “crazy” about the measure. He said balances against the board president’s power are necessary on a board that consists of only three members.

“I think maybe [the check-signing power] should keep to the treasury,” Leonnig said. “Perhaps another person, like a vice treasurer or something.”

Leonnig stressed he wasn’t concerned that any current commissioners would abuse the power, but said, “I’d just like to separate the powers a little bit more.”

ewagner@gazette.net