Council to put 9 charter amendments to public vote Residents will decide Nov. 3 on ethics committee, labor arbitration

July 24, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

The county will have its first ethics commission, county departments may be reorganized, and workers will be able to take labor disputes to an arbitrator -- if voters approve those measures and several others at the polls next fall.

The County Council agreed Wednesday night to put nine of the 19 charter amendments recommended by the Charter Review Commission on the Nov. 3 ballot.

In a five-hour hearing on the commission's proposed amendments, the most heated discussion focused on whether to ask voters if the county executive should be permitted to reorganize departments and whether binding arbitration should be an option in labor disputes.

The county's labor unions fought an amendment to permit the county executive to seek County Council approval to create new offices, reassign duties and "abolish existing offices, departments,bureaus, divisions or other units of the executive branch."

Labor leaders, accompanied by about 50 highway workers and utility and maintenance staffers, argued that the amendment would open the door for County Executive Robert R. Neall to cut departments and lay off workers.

"The county executive will be able to have any new departments. It will allow him to abolish departments. What happens to the people in those departments?" said Cecelia Fabula, staff representative of Council 67, which represents the county blue-collar workers.

"If he [Neall] wants to change specific departments, why doesn't he just say which ones and how he wants to do it?" she asked.

Robert Agee, who chaired the charter review commission, said that the amendment would not mean layoffs, but would only give county executives the authorization to implement their own organizational structure.

The executive would still need approval from the council to order layoffs, just as he now does each May during budget deliberations, Mr. Agee said.

"If the department is abolished, the positions stays, unless there is a budgetary action taken by this council," Mr. Agee said.

The labor groups lost that fight but won a round with arbitration.

The council agreed to a charter amendment that will require binding arbitration to settle labor disputes if either party in the dispute requests it.

Mr. Neall had been opposed to the amendment, arguing in a memo to the council that an arbitrator's decisions would affect public funds and that such duties are "a fundamental governmental function which must be performed by the people's elected representatives."

The council also passed amendments that, if approved by the voters, will:

* Set up a seven-member ethics commission to investigate complaints of alleged violations of the county ethics law. Members will be appointed by the executive, approved by the council and serve four years terms without pay. Ethical matters are now handled by the county attorney, who is appointed by the executive.

* Allow the Personnel Board and the Board of Appeals to have their own legal counsel rather than use the county attorney's staff.

* Give the county executive authorization to reduce the budget in the middle of the year if there is a fiscal crisis. The measure was sought by Mr. Neall following state budget cuts last year that forced him to reopen the budget process.

* Require a public hearing on details of the supplemental budget, which traditionally comes down in the final hours of council's month-long budget review and is often used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations between the executive and the council.

* Require the county attorney to be a full-time position.

The council passed a charter amendment in January that will limit council members' terms of office. It would apply to anyone running in 1994, but an incumbent's time in office would not count as part of the 12-year limit. The county executive is already limited to two four-year terms.

The Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association has submitted more than 10,000 signatures to the county Board of Elections to place a two-term council limit on the ballot, which would force council members David Boschert, Maureen Lamb and Virginia Clagett into retirement.

County lawyers are considering drafting a charter amendment specifying that if two conflicting charter amendments pass, the one with the most votes will become effective.

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