Voters to decide charter changes

Balto. County residents to address redistricting process, appointments

Collective bargaining also issue

Nine bond referendums will be on the Nov. 5 ballot

October 21, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County voters will decide on charter amendments dealing with redistricting, collective bargaining and the appointment of county department heads, as well as several bond authorizations, when they go to the polls Nov. 5.

When the Baltimore County Council redrew its district lines almost a year-and-a-half ago, community groups across the county complained that the process was secretive and lacking in meaningful public input.

Although the council changed its initial plans to reflect community concerns about the lines, several politicians and groups started discussing ways to change the redistricting procedure last fall. Eventually, the council appointed a group to study the issue, and the amendment on the ballot is similar to its recommendation.

If passed, the amendment would require the council to appoint a commission every 10 years after the U.S. Census data are released to hold public hearings and draft a new council district map. After allowing additional public input, the council would vote on the proposal.

Under current law, the council draws the new maps itself and is not required to hold public hearings.

Another amendment on the ballot would give the County Council the power to confirm county department heads. Under current law, the county administrative officer has that power, but in practice the appointments are made by the county executive.

Council members who voted to put the amendment on the ballot said the change was not meant to indicate dissatisfaction with any of the department heads or with County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. Instead, they said it would add more checks and balances into the system and foster more public discussion.

The measure is opposed by several county politicians, including Ruppersberger, county executive candidate James T. Smith Jr. and former Executives Donald P. Hutchinson and Dennis F. Rasmussen. They have argued the measure is unnecessary and could allow the council to effectively shut the government down by refusing to confirm an appointment.

Smith's Republican opponent, Douglas B. Riley, supports the measure.

The third amendment would give police officers and firefighters the right to binding arbitration in contract negotiations. The county Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Fire Fighters unions petitioned to get the measure on the ballot. The Ruppersberger administration has opposed it in the past but is not actively working against it.

The administration has placed nine borrowing referendums on the ballot, which would authorize the county to issue up to $199,789,000 in municipal bonds.

The money would be used for projects including the renovation of several middle schools, construction on Windsor Mill Middle School, the extension of Owings Mills Boulevard, construction of a library and community college branch in Owings Mills, watershed restoration and community revitalization programs.

Details of the borrowing proposals are available at www. baltimorecountyonline.info, in libraries or by calling the county's Office of Budget and Finance at 410-887-3313.

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