Voters reject revisions to charters

Balto. Co. keeps ban on county councilor state employment

November 07, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Baltimore County voters have rejected a referendum question that would have permitted County Council members to be employed by state agencies. Opponents said the change could have led to conflicts of interest.

Had it passed, the measure would have triggered a change in the county's charter, which forbids such crossover jobs.

With all but three of the county's 219 precincts reporting, 157,514 voters, almost 54 percent, were against the charter amendment, while 135,077 (46 percent) were in favor.

"Interestingly, it was the only question to be defeated," said County Council Chairman Kevin B. Kamenetz, an opponent of the measure, alluding to the 10 referendum items on the ballot. The other nine authorize the county to borrow $255 million for a variety of purposes, including $105.2 million for schools and $84 million for public-works projects.

The change in the charter might have left people employed by both the county and the state "open to the potential for political abuse" and conflicts of interest, said Kamenetz, a lawyer and former assistant state's attorney. He was also unimpressed with a contention by proponents that it would help boost the number of people running for seats on the County Council, whose members serve part time.

"The motivation to expand the pool of potential candidates is specious," Kamenetz said. "There's no shortage of available, qualified candidates."

More to the point, he said, council members might "get political hack jobs" as state employees, "and I think we want to avoid that situation."

Kamenetz and T. Bryan McIntire cast the only dissenting votes last year when the seven-member council approved a bill placing the question on Tuesday's ballot. The bill was sponsored by councilmen Vincent J. Gardina. and John Olszewski Sr. Gardina had inadvertently violated the charter by working for five months in 2003 as a supervisor of dredging projects for the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency.

After the measure had been defeated, Gardina said it was clear why, and who was at fault.

"I don't think the people understood it, mainly because it was improperly criticized by councilman Kamenetz," said Gardina, a math teacher at a private boys' school.

Gardina dismissed the council chairman's contention that competing interests would be set in motion by working for more than one master. "He said there were conflicts if interest, where there is no conflict of interest at all," Gardina said. "According to that logic, you couldn't do any work for any company that does any work for Baltimore County."

In the event of a conflict, Gardina said, "you'd just recuse yourself from voting" on the issue.

Gardina said he is not affected by the failure of the measure. "I personally am not disappointed," he said. "I have no intention of applying for state jobs."

Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Wicomico counties also forbid council members from holding state jobs.

In Anne Arundel County, about 52 percent of voters defeated a charter amendment this week that would have allowed any ordinance passed by the County Council and returned unsigned by the county executive after the 10-day presentation period to become law on the 10th day.

County Executive John R. Leopold said that while he had not opposed the proposal, he failed to see why it was necessary. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said.

Councilman G. James Benoit, who sponsored the amendment, said it was an attempt "to clear up the language."

Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Guy contributed to this article.

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