Frederick to vote on home rule Elected executive proposed for county

November 04, 1991|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

FREDERICK -- Frederick County voters will go to the polls tomorrow to decide whether to change the fast-growing county's form of government from a commissioner system to an elected executive and a five-member county council.

The proposed home rule charter, drawn up by a 12-member charter advisory board after a series of public hearings over the past year, would result in a change of government in the next county elections, scheduled for 1994.

Charter home rule has been a point of contention in the county for 20 years. Previous movements to change the form of government, including a 1984 petition drive, fell short.

But charter supporters believe that the explosive growth experienced by the county -- nearly doubling in population since 1970, to a count of 149,550 residents in 1990 -- has changed people's minds about how county business should be conducted.

"Tuesday is a big day for us," said Galen R. Clagett, a former county commissioner and member of the charter board. "Some of us have been working on this since 1966."

Under the proposed home rule charter, the elected county executive would run the day-to-day operations of county government while the five-member county council would be the legislative body. Each council member would represent a district in this county of about 150,000 residents.

No council member could serve for more than three four-year terms, and the executive would be limited to two consecutive four-year terms.

Supporters like Mr. Clagett cite a variety of benefits of the home rule system, such as more control over legislation for the county. "This will mean local laws will be passed locally," he said. Currently, many county laws must be approved by the General Assembly.

He also cited the need for a full-time elected official to oversee county business.

"We need that structure and power to continue to be a dynamic, growing county," he said.

Opponents of the proposal say that one part of the charter -- a non-interference clause -- would reduce the effectiveness of elected officials. The clause would prevent council members from having direct influence over administrative staff members, who would work for the executive.

"This non-interference clause eliminates the ability of the council members to be able to relate to county staff and to provide constituent services," said Frederick Mayor Paul P. Gordon, who opposes the change.

It would also be costly, Mr. Gordon said. "The council will need to develop its own staff that are loyal to members, so there you have increased costs and more bureaucracy," he said.

The charter, if approved, would become law on June 1, 1994. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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