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Friday, March 11, 2011

Special Election Likely for Charter Writing Board

George Wenschhof

Frustration continues to grow over the selection process used by the Frederick Board of County Commissioners (BoCC). Last night, the BoCC interviewed fifteen candidates from fifty-two applicants and chose the following nine (Rocky Mackintosh, Bob Kresslein, Jeff Holtzinger, Debra Borden, Fred Anderson, James Hoover, Ken Coffey, Tom Browning, and Joan Aquilino-McIntrye) to serve on the charter writing board.

Three (Earl Robbins, Dana French, and Doug Browning) were selected to serve as non-voting alternates.

Questions pertaining to the process used to select the members began immediately after board president Blaine Young announced on his radio show last Friday the fifteen people to be interviewed and the list of questions each would be asked to answer. The questions posed to the fifteen candidates can be read here.

One of the first callers to the show asked how were the questions determined and why they were not asked of all of the applicants prior to the board selecting fifteen to be interviewed - a good question.

Kathy Rossen is among those who are frustrated with the selection process. In a telephone conversation she expressed concern in regard to the process and questions the answer she received from the county when she requested the criteria used to whittle the applicants down to fifteen.

Ms. Rossen was sent the following list: 1. Business 2. Community Activist 3. Political 4. Government/Civil Servant 5. Municipal 6. Legal Community 7. Non-Profits 8. Education 9. Agriculture 10. Public Safety 11. Transportation 12. Medical Community 13. Military.

Instead, she felt representatives from community groups should have received priority consideration. She was disappointed the League of Women Voters of Frederick County, which she was selected to represent, was not given a seat at the table - I agree.

She added many lawyers had been selected and felt one representative from the legal community would have been sufficient as county counsel would surely be made available to the committee, when needed.

Rossen has long been a proponent of charter government and fears the selection process will hurt the possibility of passage by the voters in the 2012 general election.

She also felt the questions posed to the candidates indicated the commissioners already knew how they wanted various sections of the charter to be written and felt some of the questions were not even appropriate to be asked in the interview.

When I asked her if she would participate in a special election, she said she wouldn't rule it out. Her only concern in regard to a special election was if the cost of holding it would be a negative to voters.

Ms. Rossen is torn because she wants charter government to pass but she fears the board members selected by the BoCC will not produce a document she will be able to support.

Former county commissioner Kai Hagen, who lost in his reelection bid, also has reservations in regard to the community representation on the board. Hagen is now executive director of Envision Frederick County, a newly formed non profit organization.

I sent him an email earlier in the week asking him his thoughts in regard to the selection process and whether a special election should be held. His response is as follows:

"I will watch the remaining part of the selection process with interest. But, since they decided to only interview 15 people for nine spots and three alternates, one can already make certain conclusions. One observation that seems to be widely shared by people who know something about many or most of the people left in the process is that it is not a broadly representative group (in many respects)...and that it is heavily developer-oriented.

It remains to be seen who the nine will be, and who among others will want to run for a spot on that committee (assuming that the requisite number of signatures are gathered by them and on their behalf).

It is likely that others will run, and almost certain at this point that switching out some members of the committee with others might make - could make - the committee more diverse and representative of more perspectives and concerns in our community.

I expect I'll be involved in that effort, but how much and in what manner is not yet determined.

I do think the 2,000 signatures, over a 60 day period, is very do-able, if folks are motivated.

I will also note that having an election for the charter writing committee has an additional benefit, in that it will certainly help foster more public discussion and awareness, and sooner. And that by itself is a good thing".

Ms. Rossen and Mr. Hagen voice valid concerns. It is important to note the charge of the charter writing board is to produce a document which will provide the framework for governing Frederick county. They have up to eighteen months to complete it with the goal to have the charter put forward for the voters to decide in the November 2012 general election.

However, before the board can begin working on the document, any Frederick county registered voter has sixty days to file a petition to force a special election to determine the members of the charter writing board.

All that is needed is 2,000 signatures from Frederick county registered voters. The form to be used for obtaining signatures can be obtained here.

In a conversation with Frederick county elections director Stuart Harvey, he said a petition could contain up to nine names, the size of the board previously determined by the BoCC.

Harvey added there is no limit to the number of petitions which can be filed. So even a single individual could file a petition.

In other words, there is the potential for numerous names to appear on the special election ballot.

If petitions are received within sixty days, the signatures would be verified and a special election must be held within the following ninety days.

Harvey said the compressed time frame to hold an election could increase his estimated cost to the county of $150,000 to hold a special election.

The special election would allow the voters to weigh in on who will serve on the charter writing board.

In essence, a move to a special election will delay by up to five months, the charter writing board from beginning it's work. Not, an insurmountable problem, but the number of months available for the board to deliberate and still aim for having the question put to the voters in the 2012 general election will be reduced. Yet, the board will still have a year to produce the document.

The change to a charter government in Frederick County is long overdo and I commend the BoCC for deciding to create a charter writing board. But, it is important the process be done in a manner that is representative, transparent and provides for input from the voters.

A representative board is imperative for the future success of this effort. Involving voters throughout the charter writing process is also needed to receive input to ensure proper checks and balances, acceptable to the voters, exist in the charter. This voter outreach effort would also serve as a means of educating the voters on charter government.

I was one of the fifty-two applicants to apply for the charter writing board and feel the caller to Blaine Young's radio show, Kathy Rossen, Kai Hagen and others have expressed valid concerns in regard to the process used to date in determining the make up of the board.

Having been involved in politics all my life, I am used to political decisions being made by a majority of elected officials, sometimes outside of the public view - having been appointed to various county boards without an interview.

I, like Kathy Rossen, have been a long time proponent for charter government. I understand the reservations stated by others in regard to the process used in the selection process. I am now fearful the perceived taint of the appointment process will result in the failure of the charter to be approved.

Look to see an effort mounted to obtain signatures for a petition to hold a special election. If the candidates are as Kai Hagen suggests "...more diverse and representative of more perspectives and concerns in our community", the effort will be worthy of support.

Stay Tuned....


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