Ballot questions

Our view: Vote yes on charter amendments in Baltimore County and city

Election 2008


November 03, 2008

As much attention has been given the historic presidential race and, locally, statewide questions on early voting and slot machines, Marylanders will discover tomorrow that their ballots include a number of items that have attracted considerably less attention, from appellate court appointees to local bond issues that require voter approval.

Baltimore County's ballot issues are typical of these choices.

All but one are routine matters of borrowing money to finance parks, storm drainage, street repair, community college construction and rural land preservation, and voters should approve them.

The county's Question A, however, has stirred some modest controversy. If approved, it would amend the Baltimore County charter to allow council members to hold jobs in state government.

That the county charter currently bans such employment came as a bit of surprise to many in Towson. At least two council members have openly held state jobs in the past, and both were unaware of the charter's restriction. Apparently, it was never even called to their attention.

Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, one of two council members to oppose lifting the ban, believes the restriction is in place to ensure elected officials keep one foot in the real world, plus there's too much chance of a conflict of interest. But Mr. Kamenetz and others have difficulty envisioning exactly what that conflict would be. And surely, private employment - working for a major developer, for instance - is just as, if not more, problematic.

Voters ought to approve Question A with the understanding that the best relief to conflicts of interest is for council members to disclose such entanglements and recuse themselves from decision-making when appropriate. If that's insufficient, there's clearly a need to tighten county ethics laws, not limit the council's membership to the rich, retired or privately employed.

In Baltimore city, a similar menu of financing for projects is on the ballot; they include money for cultural institutions, libraries, recreation centers and economic development, and they too should be approved. Ballot Question A would amend Baltimore's charter to establish the city's Department of General Services as a Cabinet-level agency.

This is Mayor Sheila Dixon's way of putting a greater focus on managing the city's 400 municipal buildings and its public vehicles and also improving energy use.

While we don't believe city government needs to grow, officials say the 437-member department won't cost taxpayers more money and should producing savings through energy efficiencies. That's reason enough to approve it.

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