Wednesday, October 17, 2012

County Ballot Questions

Voters will note that there is a crowded ballot this year, full of county and state questions in addition to the candidates for office. The high number of County Charter Amendment questions is largely a result of the recommendations of the Charter Review Commission, which is assembled once every ten years. To make it onto the ballot, each of these county questions had to receive 5 votes (a super-majority) on the 7-member County Council. I voted for each of the 15 county questions that made it onto the ballot. The questions I voted against did not make it onto the ballot.

Below, I summarize the county questions and give some brief insight into them, including my position. For a more thorough review, please see this link on the County Council website: AACO Ballot Questions

Question A   Submission of County Budget - This question would move back the 45-day window the Council has to deliberate on the budget from April 15 to May 1. This would allow the County Executive more time to incorporate action of the General Assembly into the County Budget. It will also hopefully help union negotiations get done in time for budget deliberations. I SUPPORT.

Question B   County Executive – Removal from Office - This revises the current provisions for removing a County Executive. It would allow the County Council to remove an Executive for conviction (or no contest plea) of a felony, or a crime of moral turpitude or misfeasance. Further, it would allow the Council to deny retiree benefits to an Executive removed from office under this provision. I SUPPORT

Question C   County Council – Removal from Office - This is identical to Question B, except that it affects members of the County Council. What's good for the goose is good for the gander... I SUPPORT

Question D   County Council Vacancy – Failure to Appoint - This is an amendment I crafted along with Councilman Walker. It serves as a "tie-breaker" in the case where the Council has not appointed a replacement for a vacancy on the Council after 30 days. Anyone who remembers the 108 votes it took to fill the last vacancy should appreciate the need for reform. Essentially, it requires the party central committee to select an individual from among the finalists and submit that individual's name to the County Executive for appointment. Ultimately, I think we should continue working on this issue and allow the voters of the District to pick their representative in the case of a vacancy, but this is an immediate step that should prevent a repeat of this year's situation. I SUPPORT

Question E   Retiree Health Benefit Reserve Fund- This simply sets up a dedicated trust fund that will receive any funds that may be appropriated for retiree health care benefits. Currently, these funds are part of the general fund. I SUPPORT

Question F   Line Item Veto – Comp Rezoning Only - In Anne Arundel County, the County Executive has the ability to strike out individual provisions from legislation which passes the Council. This ability is called Line Item Veto. During my time on the Council, I have seen this power used to strike out compromise provisions from legislation, which in essence allows the Executive to unilaterally legislate. This question will preserve the Line Item Veto only in the case of Comprehensive Rezoning bills. This is important because the Comp Rezoning bills are unlike anything else we have seen on the Council. With some of the land use changes approved by the Council, I think it is good to have a "safety valve" to allow the Executive to strike down particularly egregious zoning changes.  I SUPPORT

Question G   County Council – Term of Office - Currently, the County Charter views the beginning of a term of office to be the day after election day. I introduced this question because I believe the term should begin when we are sworn into office. There are no legislative sessions between election day and the day we are sworn in, and the previous Councilmember still occupies the office, along with his/her staff. This is important because the vacancy appointment provisions hinge on whether the vacancy was within the first 12 months of office. I think the clock should start on the day we are sworn in to the job. I SUPPORT

Question H   Legislative Office Days - This simply provides that the Council is not required to hold legislative sessions in August. We would still perform all the other duties such as constituent service, etc, there would just be no August Council Meetings. I SUPPORT

Question I   Annual Audit - Currently the County Charter requires an audit by an independent CPA firm every four years.  This amendment would require an audit by an independent CPA firm every year as is the current practice. I SUPPORT

Question J   Bond Premiums - The County sells bonds to finance long-term investments, such as schools, roads, police stations, and other capital projects. This question would clarify that revenue generated from bond premiums would be required to be spent specifically on capital improvements only. I SUPPORT

Question K   Charter Revision Commission Membership - This simply provides that the Charter Revision Commission (which is formed once every ten years) would expand from five to seven members. Each councilmember would get an appointment, and hopefully this would result in a more diverse and more geographical representative Commission. I SUPPORT

Question L   Board of Appeals – Term Limits - This would impose a limit of two consecutive four-year terms for members of the Board of Appeals. The Board of Appeals is essentially the judicial arm of county government. There are seven Board of Appeals members and they are appointed by the County Council. Many have been there for several terms (including my appointment, Billy Moulden). This would force turnover among the current Board, and would thus bring in some new perspectives, but would also force out current members with substantial institutional knowledge. I AM NEUTRAL  

Question M   County Ethics Commission – Term LimitsThis would impose a limit of two consecutive four-year terms for members of the Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission is made up of appointments from both the County Council and the County Executive. They serve as volunteers. It is sometimes difficult to find new members. I AM NEUTRAL

Question N   Return of Bills - This simply clarifies that if the County Executive does not sign a bill, but does not veto it, the (unsigned) bill becomes law after ten days. This is the practice that is currently followed, but the Charter is currently silent on the matter. I SUPPORT 

Question O   Budget Procedures – Electronic Copy - This question would allow the County to distribute copies of the budget electronically. The current Charter requires paper copies to be submitted to the Council and others. This would bring us into the 21st Century. Paper copies would still be available upon request. I SUPPORT

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