Proposed Charter Amendments: For and Against


October 30, 1994

On Nov. 8, the voters will be asked to vote on three proposed amendments to the Howard County Charter. Two of these proposed amendments, which will be designated Question A and Question C, result from resolutions which were passed by the Howard County Council. . . . Question A provides that appointments to permanent positions in the classified system of Howard County government be made on the basis of merit, as defined in law. . . . Currently, appointments to the merit system must be made on the basis of competitive examination, and the appointing authority must consider the 10 highest candidates who are eligible. This provision has presented two kinds of problems, according to testimony of the Office of Personnel. First, competitive examination alone does not provide sufficient information for making decisions about some appointments. . . .

Second, the current charter requirement to identify 10 eligible candidates sometimes presents a problem. The Office of Personnel testified that there frequently are fewer than 10 candidates who clearly are eligible. The proposed change in the law, if Charter Question A is passed, will give the Office of Personnel flexibility to identify at least three and up to 10 eligible candidates from the applicants.

Charter Question C provides that the County Council will not meet in legislative session during the month of August unless there is an emergency or unless the council passes a resolution calling a meeting. . . .

The charter currently allows the council to cancel the August session, and we usually have done so. . . .

third question also will appear on the ballot. Question B, which relates to zoning decisions, results from a petition of citizens. Although the council forwarded the petition to the Board of Elections, as required by the charter, it was not required to vote on the proposed change. . . .

C. Vernon Gray

Ellicott City

D8 The writer is chairman of the Howard County Council.

There will be three questions on the ballot in November for Howard County.

* Question A: Merit system, promotions. Vote no.

The original charter required, as a protection for the county employees, that all appointments be made from the five highest eligible candidates, on the basis of examination. Councilman C. Vernon Gray initiated a charter change several years ago raising the number to be considered to 10. Ten was really too large a number to manage. Now, . . . the present question has been placed on the ballot eliminating any requirement to consider more then one candidate for a promotion, or for a new position.

* Question B: Planning and zoning matters. Vote yes.

The intent of this change is to return the council procedures for handling planning matters and zoning matters (specifically related to comprehensive zoning changes) to be a legislative matter. The present County Council prefers to handle the comprehensive zoning process in the county as quasi-judicial zoning business. It basically gave them absolute control and reduced the ability for citizens to act against an abuse of power.

The language on the referendum question is in keeping with the intent of the charter writers as expressed in the original charter and as adopted by the citizens of Howard County. . . . There are a lot of special interests that fear this change.

The charter language has been corrupted over the last decade to the point where the leaders of the community organizations are effectively prevented from participating in the process of formulating comprehensive planning and zoning. The members of the County Council and special interests want to minimize the voice of the residents in matters relating to increasing the density or changing the character of land uses in Howard County. This is the reason why the leaders of the community associations have worked hard to place this question on the ballot. . . .

* Question C: Council hearing days. Vote yes.

County Council members are asking you to approve a change giving them the month of August off each year. This seems reasonable for future council members. . . .

James M. Holway

Ellicott City

Do you want comprehensive planning and zoning to die in Howard County? If you vote for Question B on Election Day, it will.

Question B proposes that general plans and comprehensive rezoning be passed as legislative acts (subject to executive veto and referendum). These bills must be passed within 65 to 95 days or fail. . . .

Is everyone going to study 300-page general plans, formulate their opinions, testify and expect the County Council to vote on it within 95 days? . . . The legislative process will allow private communications to occur "behind closed doors." If you don't know what is said, you won't be able to refuse something you don't like. The legislative process will allow a veto by the county ,, executive. Why should he or she veto plans developed by members of the executive branch who hold their jobs "at the pleasure of the county executive"?

Proponents of Question B claim it will strengthen citizen powers by allowing them to veto plans and rezoning by referendum. Referendum votes tend to be based more on emotion than fact. The Question B issue arose because a small local group was upset that the zoning board approved planning to permit mixed-use zoning in their area. Why haven't they petitioned the zoning board to rehear that part of the planning? Why subject the total county planning and zoning to two-year delays to await referendum votes? Will Howard County subvert the comprehensive approach and adopt 23 separate plans like Montgomery County? . . .

Your future is better determined by comprehensive and extensive consideration of planning and zoning than by an emotional and negative referendum vote. I urge you to vote against Question B.

Bill Waff

Ellicott City

The writer is president of the Howard County Citizens Association.

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