As Wicomico County residents head to the polls in November, they will be focused on the Presidential election. And rightly so. But after they cast their vote for the next President, they will be confronted with a barrage of amendments to the Wicomico County Charter that will leave their heads spinning.
The Wicomico County Council has been quietly working to slip through nine different changes to the County Charter. There have been no public hearings, no committees appointed to gather input, and no effort to educate voters on why the council believes these changes need to be made.
There is already one very important question on the ballot this year, and that involves changing the makeup of our school board to an elected one. It’s a complicated question with three different choices which will take some time to consider.
Add nine different charter questions, and voters will likely be confused. I’m guessing that was the council’s goal. That and to weaken the county executive form of government.
There’s a process for changing the charter, and it has heretofore involved a Charter Review Committee. Back in 2000, a committee was established after 18 years of no changes to the charter. The committee was made up of people of different races and genders, and diverse backgrounds. The first order of business was to review the form of government, and whether a county executive was better suited to lead this growing county.
The committee spent nine months hearing from expert witnesses, and getting feedback from county residents on the direction the county should take. During the 2002 election cycle, a straw poll was added to the ballot seeking to change to a county executive form of government and it passed overwhelmingly.
The committee then wrote a new charter that created a strong county executive. More than a dozen people spent months working on the right language, and the right balance between the executive’s office and the council’s oversight role.
Another ballot question was added in 2004 to create the position. That too passed overwhelmingly.
Then in 2012, another Charter Review Committee was established to suggest any necessary changes in the charter. That committee included at least two of our current sitting council members, so they are well aware of the proper process for recommending changes to the charter. I also attended all of those meetings, since they were open to the public, as did other members of the current council. I understand and appreciate the thorough review process that was given to any proposed change to the charter, no matter how small. Those recommended changes made it to the ballot in 2014.
But this time, the council has circumvented the established process. It would be like Congress changing the Constitution because they don’t agree with the duly-elected President. It’s short sighted and it’s wrong.
I’ve had my differences with this council; that is clear. But there is a process for changing the charter and it requires adequate public input, and a thoughtful and deliberative approach. I’m not opposed to changing the charter, but let’s do it the correct way. None of these charter amendments have been carefully vetted, and they all deserve to be rejected by the voters.
Bob Culver is the Wicomico County Executive.