Voters face choices on schools, charter

County ballot includes 2 board appointments, amendments on new ordinances and ethics panel

Election 2008

November 02, 2008|By Nicole Fuller and Rona Marech | Nicole Fuller and Rona Marech,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com and rona.marech@baltsun.com

Besides voting on the presidential and congressional races on Tuesday, Anne Arundel County voters will decide on two county-specific ballot questions - and for the first time - a retention vote on two county school board members.

The board members are Tricia L. Johnson, who is currently serving her second five-year term as an at-large member, and Teresa Milio Birge, who joined the board in July, representing District 32.

The vote comes after lawmakers revamped the school board appointment process, which was previously decided by gubernatorial appointment. In an attempt to strike a compromise between those who were happy with the current system and others who pushed for an elected school board, county lawmakers created a nominating committee, which suggests potential school board members for the governor to choose from. Then voters have a chance to weigh in with a retention vote.

The nominees for each seat have no challengers on the ballot and did not campaign. To retain their seats, they each must receive more "yes" than "no" votes. If the public votes them down, the committee will put forth new nominations.

Johnson, 54, of Davidsonville, is the director of marketing at the Lake Presidential Golf Club in Upper Marlboro. She has five children, all of whom attended the county's public schools.

Johnson said in her time on the board, "we have raised the bar in a number of areas," among them, the introduction of the International Baccalaureate program.

Johnson said the most pressing issue before the board is the long list of construction and maintenance projects that have gone unfunded, known as the $1.5 billion maintenance backlog. Hammering away at it, she said, will be one of her top priorities.

"We have a lot of aging schools," Johnson said. "Our custodians do a great job. But we have to figure out a way to get some of these maintenance backlog issues cared for."

Birge, 37, of Odenton, is an accountant and a stay-at-home mom. She has a 3-year-old and a first-grader at Seven Oaks Elementary School. Birge has worked full time as a lobbyist and legislative analyst in the past, and currently holds a contract for lobbying work on behalf of the Maryland Association of Senior Centers. She said her yearly contract garners less than $2,500, which according to state law excludes her from having to register as a lobbyist.

Birge, too, sees the construction and maintenance backlogs as a priority, saying, "If I do anything in the next five years, I want to see that number decrease."

Also on her agenda is increasing the retention rate for teachers and improving vocational opportunities for county high school students who choose not to attend institutions of higher education after graduation.

County Executive John R. Leopold calls the two ballot questions that county residents will settle on Nov. 4 "solutions looking for problems."

Indeed, in a political season filled with intrigue, the questions have failed to arouse much - or any - interest.

But for voters who would like to know what is at stake, these are the issues: The first amendment to the county charter seeks to clarify that any ordinance passed by the County Council and returned unsigned by the County Executive after a 10-day period will become law on the 10th day. "It's purely a technical amendment," said county Councilman Joshua Cohen, a Democrat from Annapolis.

The second proposed amendment would change how the members of the Ethics Commission - the body responsible for conducting investigations into whether county employees are complying with the ethics law - are appointed. Currently, the county executive chooses all the members and the council approves them. The new provision would require the council to nominate three members whom the executive could reject only for cause.

"It might bring a little more fairness to the ethics commission process," said Brian Griffiths, the president of Anne Arundel Young Republicans and a conservative blogger.

The questions originated from the County Council, and Leopold, a Pasadena Republican, supports both of them.

The revised system for Ethics Commission appointments follows the model set up by the state, which is healthy, he said. And though the first question addresses an issue that had yet to crop up as a problem, it's clarifying. "The law office says no harm in supporting it," he said. "I'm pleased to be accommodating."

ballot questions

The complete text of the Anne Arundel County ballot questions:

Question A

Charter Amendment

Failure of Bills

To amend the Charter of Anne Arundel County to clarify that any ordinance passed by the County Council and returned unsigned by the County Executive after the ten day presentation period will become law on the tenth day.

Question B

Charter Amendment

County Ethics Commission

To amend the Charter of Anne Arundel County to provide that the County Council shall nominate for appointment by the County Executive three of the seven members of the Ethics Commission.

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