I mentioned the other day that there were proposed changes in the Wicomico County charter, and now I’ve had an opportunity to digest these a little bit. Many are perfunctory, but there are also some which may be controversial as well.
There are a number of changes being proposed to the charter, but some of the more provocative ones are:
- Establishing special elections for long-term vacancies within County Council or the County Executive. This was probably a reaction to the untimely death of the late District 4 Council member Bob Caldwell, who died less than a year into his term. An appointee approved by our Central Committee and selected by County Council, John Hall, will serve the last three years.
- Establishing a two-term limit on the County Executive. Notably, that prohibition would not extend to County Council. From what I’ve been told, this two-term limit on the county’s leader was considered as part of the original Charter change that created the County Executive position a decade ago but the Democratic County Council majority at the time balked at the inclusion of that language. It’s worthy of note that none of those four Democrats chose to run again in 2006, the election where the first County Executive was selected and the Council was stripped of its executive powers over Wicomico County.
- Changing the number of referendum signatures required from 15% of the total number of registered voters in the county to 15% of county voters who cast ballots in the previous Presidential election. Using the active voters from October, 2008 and local results from that year’s Presidential election as a base it would reduce the number of signatures required from 7,934 to 6,278 – still a significant number. Similarly, a public-inspired change to the Charter goes from needing signatures from 20% of all registered voters (or 10,000, whichever is fewer) to 20% of participating voters, with a maximum requirement of 10,000. The 20% of participating threshold would reduce the number of signatures required to 8,371 based on 2008 numbers.
- Giving the County Council a say on the removal of the County Attorney via a 2/3 vote (which in Wicomico County would be a 5-2 vote assuming all seven members are present.) This was probably inspired by the controversy in the city of Salisbury over their city attorney.
In discussing this with Marc Kilmer, a member of the committee who gave me the heads-up on the situation, it’s not clear just how these items would be presented should they pass muster with County Council.
But given the fact that state voters will already be facing six (and perhaps seven) ballot issues this fall, the number of local questions should probably be kept to a minimum. If they were to pass the first three issues I spell out and write the questions in such a way that these subjects be put together, with special elections for County positions as one question, term limits on the County Executive – and I would be inclined to suggest the same for County Council – as a second question, and the referendum changes as a third, I think we could call it a day.
Sure, there are other changes which probably should be made but many of them are more technical and there’s no reason we can’t come back in 2014 to make those corrections. There’s no restriction on when items supported by the Charter Review Committee can be placed before voters because, with five affirmative votes, County Council can bring those up at any time. I might even be convinced that putting off the term limits question to 2014, when we can add County Council to the roster of offices under term limits and vote in politicians who would be subject thereto, would be the way to go.
Of course we have no way of knowing what the 2014 ballot will look like at a state referendum level because there are almost always state amendments placed before voters, and if the Democratic majority in Annapolis doesn’t learn the lesson they are hopefully taught this time we may see a half-dozen or more statewide questions once again. But knowing that there are already a number of weighty issues before the voters in Wicomico County, it may be smart to parcel out changes among several election cycles and address the most important ones now. To me, making sure vacancies are filled by the people and easing referendum requirements are top priorities, while term limits can go on the back burner.
But the Charter Review Committee has done its job, and now it’s up to the people to speak. The next chance comes Tuesday evening at the County Council meeting, but there’s also e-mail and voice communications as well. This post is my take on what should be done but I’m sure readers have theirs, too.