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Monday, July 11, 2011

Will Maryland DREAM Act Doom Frederick County Charter?

George Wenschhof

The rocky start by the Frederick Maryland Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) to move to a charter form of government may have been dealt a fatal blow by statewide action on a totally unrelated issue.

The Maryland General Assembly passed, in their regular session earlier this year, the DREAM Act, which provided in-state tuition rates for children of undocumented immigrants. The in-state tuition rate earned if the guidelines providing a pathway to citizenship were followed by an applicant.

A reasonable approach, one would argue, in dealing with the highly charged issue surrounding the children of the estimated 11+ million undocumented immigrants who reside in the United States.

However, due to the failure of the U.S. Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, measures such as the one passed by the Maryland General Assembly receive the ire of many voters, as they only address a single component of this volatile issue.

As, was the case in regard to the Frederick BoCC selection of a charter writing board, the Maryland DREAM Act was subject to a petition for referendum under the Maryland constitution. The number of required signatures obtained and recently certified by the Maryland state board of elections.

This action will result in the “yes or no” question on the DREAM Act put forward for voters to decide in the Maryland 2012 General Election. The same election Frederick County voters will be answering a “yes or no” question on instituting charter government.

The demographics of Frederick County suggest voters will vote “no” to the DREAM Act and as a result, political analysis indicates a second “no” is likely on the move to charter government.

Interestingly, both issues illuminated the state board of elections petition signature certification process, which is currently being challenged on behalf of those who petitioned for a Frederick County special election to determine the members of the charter writing board appointed by the BoCC.

The onerous requirement to have one’s signature match the signature in the voter registration file should not survive legal review. The only issue of concern should be the person is who she/he claims to be, not whether one signed their name with middle initial or not.

I opined in an earlier column, that while I was not convinced a special election for the charter writing board was needed, I supported the right for voters to call for one. Upon learning former Frederick Commissioner and lawyer John Thompson would take on this case, I wrote "...I trust his legal expertise is up to the day in court which will hopefully come soon".

Thompson failed to request a stay from the court, which if granted, would have halted the work being conducted by the appointed charter writing board, until a ruling on the validity of the signatures had been issued.

If, a special election resulted, it would stand to reason, work by the charter writing board should be suspended until the results of the election had been certified.

The appointed charter writing board has now requested twenty-five thousand from the BoCC to use in part to hire a consultant and in part for expenses incurred by the board. The financial request is reasonable. I had also written earlier, a budget should have been included by the BoCC when they appointed the charter writing board.

However, if court review results in a special election for the members of the charter writing board, it should be up to the new members to determine who to hire as a consultant and how to expense the balance of the funds provided by the BoCC.

This is a clear example of why a stay, if requested, would likely be issued by a Judge. The issuance of a stay would also likely result in a faster ruling on the validity of the petition signatures, as it would be apparent valuable time in preparing the charter was being lost.

As one who has long called for charter government in Frederick County, I fear the combination of a muddled charter writing board appointment process coupled with the inclusion of the DREAM Act referendum question in the 2012 General Election, will doom the passage of charter government for Frederick County.


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