Council Discusses Amendments To The Charter

A decision is expected at a later date.


Frederick, Md (KM). Five amendments have been proposed to the Frederick County Charter. The Council discussed these measures Tuesday night and took public comment.

One would change the way vacancies are filled on the Council. If one member dies, resigns or is found to be unfit to hold office,the Council would have to decide within 45-days on that person’s replacement. If the Council member who is stepping down is a member of a political party, that party’s central committee would pick three candidates and submit them to the Council within 30-days of a vacancy. If that person was not affiliated with a party when elected, the Council shall appoint  a replacement from among the best qualified candidates  regardless of political party. But if the Council does not choose a replacement, the County Executive will do so.

Gil House from Frederick, who was the only one who testified, expressed support for the amendment. “A majority of the time, it will never happen. But it has happened or it could happen here with one of the Council members here,” he said.

Another change would let the Council provide for collective bargaining for county employees when it comes to wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. “This would compel the Council to write a law, or modify current law about collective bargaining. There would be no negotiating with the County Council. Any negotiating, any collective bargaining, would still occur with the County Executive or her designee or his or her negotiating team,” said Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater, who introduced the measure. Currently, only sheriff’s deputies and paid fire fighters have collective bargaining rights with the county.

Budget and finance are addressed in another amendment to the Charter. This change, submitted by Councilman Tony Chmelik, would allow the Council to increase any item in the County Executive’s proposed  budget. But that increase would need to be offset by a corresponding decrease in another item in the spending plan. “The purpose of this is to allow the Council, as a whole if they were agree, to move money sideways from one department if you will, to another, or whatever they might feel the best policy would be,” he said. “It does not, however, allow the Council to affect the revenue estimates. That is still completely to be held by the County Executive.”

One other amendment states  the County Attorney would serve at the pleasure of the County Executive, and could be removed from office by the County Executive with the consent of a majority of the Council, or by a vote from at least five Council members. John Mathias has served in that post for a number of years, dating back to before the  establishment of charter government in the county.

Under another amendment, expedited legislation approved by the Council would take effect immediately unless a different date is listed in the bill. Expedited legislation contains a section which declares this measure is necessary for the public health, safety and welfare, and has the same meaning as emergency legislation.

A decision on these amendments by the Council is expected at a later date.

There was discussion about the way a video of last week’s 287(g) Steering Committee meeting was edited. Councilman Chmelik did not object to the fact that county staff had to “bleep” out a lot of the profanity expressed by some at the meeting, but he took exception to comments made by County Executive Jan Gardner on WFMD’s “Mid-Maryland Live” on Monday about other editing being done on the video.. “What I heard yesterday {Mon} was that the video crew would be editing out anybody who gave indication that they were running for office. I think that’s censorship and it doesn’t belong in Frederick County,” he said.

“I think the public would want to know what your position is when you’re running for office,” he continued.

Gardner  acknowledged on “Mid-Maryland Live” that’s exactly what was done. “We have candidates coming to a lot of meetings. Certainly, everyone is allowed to come in and speak. But we can’t have  people identifying themselves as candidates and campaigning. And so the identification as a candidate is being deleted too,” she said.

But their message will remain. “So their statements are there and we really want  to follow the rules on that,” said Gardner.

The video of the meeting, with it’s edits, has been posted on the County Government web site.


By Kevin McManus