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Monday, March 7, 2011

Next Step To Frederick County Charter Government

George Wenschhof

On Thursday evening, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners will publicly interview 15 applicants for the charter writing committee.

Nine will be selected to serve on the committee (the maximum number allowed by law) and three will serve as alternates.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I was one of thirty-five applicants who were not chosen to be interviewed.

I have long advocated for the change to charter government in Frederick County Maryland and am pleased the process is moving forward.

While some will question the process used by the county commissioners to determine the make up of the committee, I am not one of them.

The commissioners received a large response from qualified individuals and many ways could have been utilized in the selection process.

The decision was made to narrow the list to 15, have them answer a series of questions and participate in an interview which is open to the public and also televised.

This will take place Thursday evening at Winchester Hall, with a decision by the board the same evening.

It is important to note that if a petition with sufficient signatures is received following the selection and appointment of the committee, a future special election would be held to determine the members of the committee.

Four years ago, I wrote that it was time to move charter government forward in Frederick County in a column published on on February 2, 2007.

In that piece I wrote (addressed to the previous Board of Commissioners) "They should concentrate on three areas: first, a decision on the establishment of the committee; second, the size and representative make-up of the committee; and third, the charge to be given to the committee".

I went on to write "The make-up of the charter-writing committee should be bipartisan and representative of all Frederick County communities".

The huge response from individuals (52 applicants) who were interested in participating in this process should ensure a representative committee.

For me, the most important part of the entire process is for the charter writing committee be given a charge by the board of commissioners to reach out to the community at large for input during the charting writing process.

In the same column written four years ago, I wrote, "The charge given to the charter-writing committee should require that it hold an on-going series of open and public meetings throughout Frederick County to solicit feedback and input from the residents".

I added "The commissioners should not - at this point in the process - get bogged down by dwelling on the minutia of the document that will be prepared by the charter-writing committee. Instead they should move forward on a dual front by concurrently soliciting opinion from the voters and having the charter-writing committee write the document".

Scheduling public meetings at various locations across Frederick County every 4-5 months over the next 18 months would be a good move. For example, hold meetings in the City of Frederick (perhaps a joint NAC meeting would be a good choice), as well as locations in northern, southern, western, and eastern Frederick County.

It is with this input and participation in the development of the charter by the community, the likelihood of passage by the voters will take place when they go to the polls in the November 2012 presidential election.

Discussion on how the separation of powers should be spelled out between the council and executive, the number of council members and whether they should be elected by districts are but two of the many areas of the charter that should receive public input.

A committee privately toiling away for 18 months and then unveiling the charter to be voted on will not likely receive a positive response.

It is past due that a change to charter government take place in Frederick County. I commend the county commissioners for taking the first steps in appointing a charter writing committee. I strongly urge them to include a charge to the committee to involve the voters during the development of the governing document.


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