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"Charter Government Ė Love It or List It?"

Justin Kiska

(1/2017) The first half of the first term of office under Frederick Countyís new Charter Government is now behind us. Two years down, two more to go. After the first two years, people are still divided on how things are going. There was never a doubt in my mind that the first four years were going to be filled with a lot of trial and error. You canít transition from one form of government to the next, County Commissioner to Charter, without there being some major adjustments and a great deal of growing pains.

I supported the move to Charter government and still do because I recognize that Frederick County is not simply a small rural county any longer. It has grown and is growing and a government structure like we have now is what is needed moving forward.

With that in mind, I do see many of the issues that have come along with the transition being the result of clashes of personality in Winchester Hall, not necessarily the Charter itself. Our County Council is not only sorely divided, but in many sense dysfunctional. The first members elected to the County Council were always going to be the guinea pigs. Thereís really no other way to put it. It was going to be up to them to begin setting precedents for the future. What weíve gotten is a lot of infighting. And while the Council has been distracted by the differences its members have with one another, our first County Executive has used her time to turn the position into a very powerful one.

The Charter made the new County Executive very strong, but County Executive Gardner has gone well beyond what is written in black and white. One example that still aggressively divides people is over the money she returned to the City of Baltimore which had been sent to Frederick as a reimbursement for police services provided during the 2015 riots. Some, including Ms. Gardner, say she had the executive authority to return the money without consulting with anyone. Others, including myself, feel this should have been an issue discussed with the Council at the very least, or even the sheriff whose department provided the services. Had the Council not been busy sniping at one another, could they have all gotten on one page and spoken for the residents of the county and questioned why our County Executive was giving away our money to a city that already receives well over its fair share from the state?

The Council also passed up the opportunity to move forward on a Charter amendment that would allow them to increase spending in the budget, not simply decrease proposed spending amounts. As it stands, the County Executive gets to make the decision on spending levels. In a system that is supposed to have checks and balances, why wouldnít those who voted against sending the amendment to referendum want the County Council to have this ability? As Iíve said before, on principle, I donít like increasing the number of people who have the ability to spend the taxpayersí money, but leaving it in the hands of only one person isnít a good idea either. And a strong Council to balance a strong Executive is what we should be striving for.

We saw a great deal of pettiness during the first half of the first four years under the Charter. Those "in power" refused to allow those "out of power" to have a say in the agenda. Council members not being able to do their jobs and represent their constituents because they cannot talk directly to county staff. On that point, Iím not saying that there is anything wrong with having a system or procedures in place so the Council can communicate with staff, but it should not be one so onerous that it prevents the Council from serving the people of Frederick County.

The transition to a new form of government was, and still is, going to take work. But at some point, if the current Council canít start working together and doing what it is the residents of Frederick want them to do, if they donít start taking their orders from the bottom up instead of the top down, then it may be time to start looking around to see who will be running in 2018. Not that I want to jump start the next election after the one we just finished, but at some point, we might have to say, "Alright, itís time to let the adults take over now."

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