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Monday, March 28, 2011

Charter Board Appointments Challenged

George Wenschhof

As expected, a petition drive has begun to force a special election for the members of the Frederick County Charter Writing Board.

This board is charged with developing the document which, if passed by the voters in the 2012 general election, would provide the governing policies for Frederick County government.

The eight challengers for the nine member board have sixty days from March 10 (the day the nine appointments were made) to obtain two thousand verified signatures from registered voters of Frederick County.

If successful, the board of elections must hold an election within ninety days following the expiration of the sixty days from the date of appointment of the charter writing board.

Now the petition effort has begun, County Attorney John Mathias may wish to postpone meetings by the appointed charter writing board until the sixty day period has expired. If a special election follows, Mathias may deem it appropriate to delay meetings by the charter writing board until after the election.

As I wrote previously, dissatisfaction of the process used by the county commissioners was evident immediately following the announcement by county commissioner president Blaine Young.

While, I believe the board of commissioners made an effort to conduct a open and even televised process for selecting the members, it was also a certainty a challenge to the appointment process would take place.

The county commissioners could have simply appointed the members. An interview is not a requirement. However, it was the televised interviews which caught the attention of many who viewed them.

The lack of consistency of the questions asked to the candidates and some of the silly questions asked were evident to those who watched the interviews.

At the same time, some candidates, such as Robert Kresslein and Ken Coffee (both were selected), performed very well.

Both Janice Wiles (Friends of Frederick County) and former county commissioner Kai Hagen (Envision Frederick County) have said to me they are not behind this effort. However, expect both to be branded with conspiring to run the challenging slate of candidates to serve on the charter writing board.

At first blush, some will say the eight challengers appear they could be labeled as "anti-growth". If true, this effort could quickly deteriorate into more of the same "growth" versus "no-growth" county commissioner battles of the last twenty years.

But. it is also likely they are indeed motivated over their dissatisfaction in regard to the process used by the county commissioners to select the members of the charter writing board.

A quick look at some of the challengers reveals Aaron Valentino is chair of the board of directors of Envision Frederick County and Ellis Burruss lost in the county commissioner race last year while appearing on the "managed growth" slate.

Donna Kuzemchak and Russell Winch served as elected officials, with the City of Frederick and Town of Walkersville. John McClurkin served on the Frederick County Planning Commission. Paul Gilligan has been a long term advocate for the rural legacy program and ran unsuccessfully three times for delegate in district 3-b.

Rolan Clark has been a long time Democrat who has volunteered in the local Democratic Party rapid response efforts in the past and has been vocal in regard to his positions on local issues, including the recent waste-to-energy debate.

Three of the challengers had applied for consideration by the county commissioners to serve on the charter writing board and were not selected for an interview.

Arguments from some against a special election will certainly include the estimated cost of $150,000 from the board of elections to hold the election.

Yet, others will argue the special election will serve to further educate the voters on how charter government will impact them.

I have been a long term advocate for charter government and my support of the change has nothing to do with a "growth" or "no-growth" perspective. Rather, my support stems from my belief that a charter form of government with an elected executive and county council would better serve the voters than the current board of commissioner form of government.

However, I also strongly believe the voters should be engaged in the charter writing process. The balance of power between the executive and county council, and whether the council should be elected by district or at large are but a few of the many sections of the charter that deserve full public input as the charter is being drafted by the board.

The expense of 150 thousand out of the 448 million Frederick County general fund is a small figure when one considers the impact changing the form of government will have on the lives of Frederick County residents.

Rather than fight the effort to hold a special election for the members of the charter writing board, it would be prudent to understand some are concerned with the current make up of the board.

Educating the voters on what charter government means to the charter writing board candidates would hopefully be part of the petition drive and subsequent campaign.

The change to charter government in Frederick county has failed numerous times in the past. Most often, due to confusion and personalities, rather than on merit.

If two thousand verified signatures are obtained, a special election will be held and the voters will decide who sits on the charter writing board - democracy in action - which is a good thing.


Editor's Note -
I was among 52 original applicants who applied to serve on the nine member charter writing board

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