County Executive Gardner says it’s been a success.
Frederick, Md (KM) Frederick County has completed its second year under a charter form of government, and County Executive Jan Gardner says it’s been very successful. “I think charter government is more efficient. I think we’ve been able to deliver good results to the residents and taxpayers of the county. I think we’ve been very fiscally responsible, and we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount.”
Gardner says another advantage of charter government is it gives Frederick County an important seat at the table when it come to important issues being discussed and decided in Annapolis.
In November, 2012, the citizens of Frederick County agreed in a referendum to change the form of government from county commissioner to charter, which provides for an executive branch represented by the county executive, and a legislative branch represented by the county council.
But Gardner acknowledges that not everyone is on board with charter government. “Of course there are people who are unhappy because they didn’t have the person they wanted elected, elected,” she says. “But that’s really not a reflection on the form of government.”
However, Gardner acknowledges that there were a few “fits and starts” during the first days of charter government in Frederick County. “Well, the first three or four months, pretty much every document that came forward we had to say ‘who does this? Is it the council or the county executive? or one or the other,'” she said. “Once we got most of the normal processes identified, things have gone a lot more smoothly.”
She does say Frederick County consulted with other counties who have charter government on how to ease themselves into this new form of governance.
Even before the referendum, some critics of charter government said it would be more expensive in order to support a large bureaucracy. “I think there are a few more staff people in the county because there are two branches of government. Certainly, there are now eight elected officials instead of five. But our salaries total the same amount as the county commissioners. But I think it’s more efficient,” says Gardner.
Under charter government, bot the executive and the legislative branches act as a check and balance against each other. But there has been criticism that the Council not challenged County Executive Gardner at any time since she was elected. “Well, they can be a check through the actual budget process,” she said. “During the year after the budget’s adopted, if money is moved between divisions, or we get a grant or some other new source of money, or we want to move money around, that goes back to the Council as a budget transfer.”
She also says the Council can vote down bills that she proposed, although that has not happened yet.
Gardner has also been criticized for being inaccessible to the Council. But she says she meets with the Council President and Vice President, and she’s always willing to meet with other Council members. “Sometimes, I’m in Annapolis for the day and if they show up my door, I’m not there,” she says. “But I’m happy to meet with them and answer the phone and talk with them. I do solicit their input during the budget cycle. Some of them choose not to meet with me, even though I ask them to meet with me and share their budget priorities.”
The Charter adopted by the voters has a process for taking the county back to a commissioner form of government. Gardner, who served as a commissioner in the past, doesn’t want to return to commissioner government. “Having done both jobs, I think charter government is much more efficient and I think it’s delivering good results and good government for the citizens of Frederick County,” says Gardner.
By Kevin McManus