Towson: An End-Run Amendment

October 08, 1992

The fine print of charter amendments usually doesn't make for great reading in the voting booth. Sometimes, though, what's between the lines can prove intriguing.

Take the tale of revenge lurking behind a proposed charter amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot in Baltimore County. The amendment would allow each of the seven county council members to appoint one person to the planning board. Under the current process, the county executive appoints all 15 board members, though seven are named on the recommendations of the council representatives. The council also approves the appointments of the board's chairman and vice-chairman, who are recommended by the executive.

Proponents of the amendment say it would merely codify a process already in place, since a council member's recommendation virtually guarantees a planning board seat. Besides, County Executive Roger Hayden doesn't object.

How generous of Mr. Hayden. Maybe too generous for his own good, because it seems the proposal is less a bid to democratize the appointment process than it is a power grab on the council's part.

Consider the amendment's origin: the pique among certain council members when they had a hard time -- too hard a time, they claim -- getting their planning board nominees past Mr. Hayden. So they whipped up a charter amendment that would let them do an end-run.

While the planning board's official role is to make recommendations on development, its implied role is to serve as the conscience of Baltimore County where building projects are concerned. That role grows in importance as the county's undeveloped acreage becomes scarcer.

This isn't a good time, then, to fiddle with the make-up of the board, which generally has performed well with the executive having the final say about its membership. Direct council appointments could politicize the process by making board members feel beholden to their councilmanic patrons. It could also create so many parochial viewpoints that gridlock might result.

Some would argue that the executive's control of appointments means the process is already politicized. Still, we believe that if the executive is to have a fair shot at implementing the policies for which he was elected, he should be free to staff his boards and departments without undue interference from the legislative branch -- especially when legislators are motivated by revenge.

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