Charter changes are approved overwhelmingly

On a dramatic election night, there was no drama surrounding the nine charter amendments put forth for voter approval by the Wicomico County Council.

Each of the nine changes was overwhelmingly approved by county voters.

If the charter amendments were complicated and tricky, voters apparently had little trouble agreeing to them all.

Elections officials said Tuesday that voting times took longer than usual, as people could be clearly seen considering all of the ballot items.

Leading up to Tuesday, the charter changes have revealed some sharp divisions in the county’s executive and legislative branches. County Executive Bob Culver, for his part, has called on voters to reject all of the amendments.

Meanwhile, the County Council, which unanimously approved their inclusion on the ballot, made no apologies for bringing in the voters to help decide the innerworkings of county government.

Question B

County Council Vacancy — Special Election

To amend the County Charter to require a special election to fill a County Council vacancy if an appointment to fill a vacancy in the Council is made more than 30 days before the filing deadline for President of the United States. The person to fill the vacancy shall serve until the first Tuesday in December following the general election for the President of the United States.

Voters approved this question 26,575 to 7,954, or by 77 percent of the vote.

This is considered a housekeeping measure that’s been discussed before.

Question C

Submission of Appointments for Confirmation

To amend the County Charter to extend the time for the Council to act to confirm or reject any appointment by the County Executive of the Director of Administration, the head of a department in the executive branch, or a member of a board or commission from 30 days to 45 days from the submission and to require the submission at a legislative session of Council.

Voters approved this question 22,917 to 11,813, or with 66 percent of the vote.

Question D

County Executive Vacancy — Special Election

To amend the County Charter to require a special election for the County Executive if a vacancy occurs within the first 12 months of a term and providing for an interim appointee before the special election. If a vacancy occurs after the first 12 months of a term, then the County Council is authorized to permanently fill the vacancy by a majority vote within 45 days after the vacancy occurred. The current Charter requires the Council to fill a County Executive vacancy by resolution within 30 days.

Voters approved this question 26,118 to 8,680, or with 75.1 percent of the vote.

Another housekeeping measure. If a County Executive dies or leaves office, the Director of Administration will assume the duties until the council can appoint a replacement of the same political party. If that occurs within the first year of an executive’s term, an election will be held at the next opportunity (again in a presidential election year).

Question E

Temporary Absence of Disability of the County Executive

To amend the County Charter to direct the the Director of Administration shall perform the duties of the County Executive in the event of a temporary absence or disability of the County Executive. This amendment would remove the County Executive’s option to designate in writing some other person in the executive branch to perform the duties of County Executive in the event of a temporary absence or disability of the County Executive.

Voters approved this question 24,853 to 9,841, or with 71.6 percent of the vote.

When the County Executive system was implemented, the idea that the executive could name a temporary replacement — all on his own — was seen as unusual. That has lingered, and now the County Council wants the Director of Administration to serve as the automatic fill-in, rather than the County Executive naming a temporary stand-in.

Question F

Temporary Administrative Appointments

To amend the County Charter to limit the term of an appointment as an “Acting Director of Administration” or any “Acting” head of a department to a period of 90 days. The current charter limits the temporary appointment by the County Executive of an “Acting Director of Administration” or an acting head of a department only if the person does not possess all the qualifications of office as required by the charter.

Voters approved this question 25,695 to 8,791, or with 74.5 percent of the vote.

It’s the saga over the county’s legal representation that is at the heart of this Charter Amendment.

After taking office, Culver — in what he has insisted to be a cost savings action — essentially disbanded the County Law Department. The department exists under the charter, and Culver had made a campaign issue out of the department’s hefty staffing and expenses.

Culver hired his own attorney on a contract/retainer. Throughout the process, County Council members appeared more than a bit miffed by the executive’s actions, quizzing him closely but remaining detached..

Question G

Reorganization Defined

To amend the County Charter to provide that a reorganization includes any change of the function, responsibilities, or powers of any part of the Executive Branch or a management-initiated rearrangement of reporting relationships, including terms of financial compensation, of multiple positions within or between executive departments, offices, agencies.

Voters approved this question 24,144 to 9,302, or with 72.2 percent of the vote.

Question G is an extension of the conflict as reflected in the explanation of Question F..

Question H

Department of Law

To amend the County Charter to change the role of the County Attorney in the representation of the County Council and the council’s right to employ counsel. The current Charter requires that the County Attorney be the legal advisor of the Council and the charter amendment modifies this requirement.

Voters approved this question 21,143 to 12,637, or with 62.6 percent of the vote.

A further extension of the legal counsel debate, this put in writing the council’s ability to have its own attorney (which it has already done).

Question I

Personnel System

To amend the County Charter to authorize the County Council to establish by Law a Personnel System, and to provide that the County Executive may propose changes or revisions for adoption by the Council.

Voters approved this question 22,509 to 11,245, or with 66.7 percent of the vote.

Perhaps the biggest blow to the County Executive’s power is the amendment regarding county personnel.

The genesis for Question I is recent complaints raised by retired county employees, unhappy with alterations to their health care plans.

The former workers have complained openly to the executive and council.

Culver sees the amendment as a transfer of power; the council sees it as an accountability issue in which the public and employees are counting on their involvement.

It would also allow the council to suggest personnel policies.

Question J

Expense Budget

To amend the County Charter to provide that in the event the County Council and County Executive do not agree upon the expenditure of a surplus resulting from the Council’s decreasing or deleting budget items, the surplus will be placed in the Undesignated Fund balance.

Voters approved this question 23,021 to 11,224, or with 67.2 percent of the vote.

The amendment that calls for money that’s cut by the council, during the budget process, to be placed back into the pot for the following year.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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