Panel OKs charter ideas

Break for officials among advisory commission's recommended changes

List to be submitted Monday

Creating people's counsel, council confirmation of county attorney proposed

Anne Arundel

May 14, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

An advisory commission approved in concept a final list of proposed changes to Anne Arundel County's charter last night, including one that would give elected officials a break from the business of governing -- in December or the summertime.

Charter Revision Commission Chairman Thomas E. Riggin said yesterday that the five-member group will deliver its recommended charter amendments to the County Council on Monday.

Commission members will appear before the council June 3 to answer questions.

Amendments recommended by the commission must be adopted by five of the seven council members. The council also could introduce amendments. Proposed changes would be put before county voters as a referendum on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Commission members narrowly endorsed last month the amendment that stirred the most debate: a proposal to allow an independent arbitrator to set salaries in case of an impasse during labor negotiations for police officers and firefighters.

County Executive Janet S. Owens and her administration oppose the idea, arguing that it would take power from elected officials, who often step in to settle such disputes.

The proposal will be included in the commission's final report.

Another suggestion, to hire a barrister other than the county attorney to represent the council, was debated at the commission's meeting last night in Annapolis.

Commission members recently heard from officials from Harford and Montgomery counties, where legislative branches are represented by separate legal counsels.

In the end, commission members agreed that the council should be allowed to consult with the lawyer of its choosing, including legislative and procedural counsel Robert M. Pollock, who worked for the county's law office for 24 years before moving to the council's suite a year ago. At present, Pollock is not allowed to offer legal advice to elected officials.

Commission members also recommended that the county executive's choice for county attorney be subject to confirmation by the County Council. Such a process would ensure that the county attorney is "committed to serving both the County Council and the county executive," said commission Vice Chairman Newton Gentry III.

Under existing rules, the county executive appoints the county attorney without the council's involvement.

In addition, the charter commission will forward to the council a proposal to appoint a "people's counsel," an attorney who would provide free advice to residents or business owners who have a legal dispute with county government.

The idea of a summer break was proposed last year by Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat. Owens also endorses the proposal, which would give elected officials a chance to focus on personal business or take a family vacation. A charter amendment is necessary to alter the number of meetings the council holds each year and when those meetings occur.

Other amendments on the charter commission's list include proposals that would:

Allow an amended bill to be voted upon at the next meeting of the council.

Allow a special primary and general election to fill a vacancy in the office of county executive.

Assign the task of setting the pay for the county executive to the Salary Standards Commission, an advisory committee.

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