Wicomico poised to advance two Charter changes

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Wicomico County residents will have the opportunity to vote on two amendments to the County Charter when they’re in the election booth on Nov. 6.

The County Council discussed several amendments, but this week Councilman Marc Kilmer said they had been narrowed down to two.

One will allow voters to decide if the County Council should confirm deputy directors and assistant directors of administration, just as they now approve hiring of department heads.

The other will determine if council should authorize transfer of assets valued at more than $15,000 between county departments, the way council now authorizes transfer of appropriations, or funding.

“The Charter now authorizes the transfer of money between departments, but it doesn’t say anything about transferring assets. In essence, now, if a department wanted to transfer appropriations between departments they would have to get county approval. But if the Roads Department had a vehicle another department needed and wanted to give the truck to them, that would require approval,” Kilmer explained.

“This Charter amendment is in the spirit of the current amendment. Transfer of cash is already covered,” he said.

Concerning the first proposed amendment, Kilmer said it would increase checks and balances in county government and involve Council members instead of simply allowing the administration to hire deputies and assistants.

“This is done in other counties, so it isn’t out of the ordinary,” Kilmer said.

A public hearing on charter amendments is set for Tuesday, June 5.

County Executive Bob Culver has stood opposed to having charter amendments on this year’s ballot.

“We had one work session on it. Our attorney thought it could be done with bills or changes to the County Code and not necessarily the charter. Regardless, council wants to put them on the ballot,” Kilmer said.

Several weeks ago, at a council meeting, members discussed several charter amendments, including the following.

Term limits

The council decided not to put term limits for the County Executive on the ballot.

Setting limits was suggested by Culver.

Councilman Joe Holloway said Culver was including him when he “kind of brought up that there should be term limits for Council members who have been here too long.”

Kilmer suggested asking for public input about term limits.

“This isn’t the end of the process. The public can tell us what they think,” Kilmer said.

Council President John Cannon called polling the public “a very good approach.”

Compensation Committee

Council members did not reach consensus on removing the requirement for the Compensation Committee to assemble every four years and make recommendations for pay increases for the County Executive, council members and the sheriff.

The council’s attorney, Robert Taylor, said the charter makes it mandatory for the Committee to meet and recommend salary changes. Taylor said the state law makes it optional, but county Charter uses the word “shall,” meaning it is mandatory.

Kilmer said some members of the Committee were upset that they met often and worked hard on their report to the County Council “and it came to nothing” after council members quickly dismissed their recommendations at an earlier meeting.

Kilmer asked if the County Code should be changed to stop requiring the committee to meet every four years.

Taylor said under state law, “you don’t have to do it, even for the council.”

“If it does require it in the charter, it could be made optional as well,” Taylor said.

“By Resolution” wording.

This concerns approving contracts by resolution, but Taylor said if a resolution can be passed in a closed session, there is no pressing need to change the language.

Council Administrator Laura Hurley said not all contracts the county enters into are approved by resolution.

Council decided not to put this before voters as a charter amendment.

Internal auditor access

Council asked Taylor to look at changing language pertaining to internal auditor access.

Steve Roser, internal auditor, said auditors must have full, free and unrestricted access to records before an audit.

Roser said he likes Baltimore County’s code language, which states an employee and others associated with expenditure of county funds must cooperate with the county auditor and that anyone who provides information to the auditor may not be penalized.

Roser said it’s important the language be clearly stated.

Kilmer agreed and suggested something be added to the county code. “We could pass a code that could maybe mirror this,” Kilmer said.

Appointments of deputy directors to acting directors.

Hurley explained this was a recommendation from a council member and would allow a deputy director to be appointed to acting director when necessary.

County attorney reviewing all contracts

Hurley said this is the result of the County Executive being concerned that the County Attorney didn’t review an accounting position before an employee was hired.

County Council appointing citizen advisory boards

Hurley explained this came about when it was determined the council could not appoint advisory boards.

“It’s probably pretty important for us to be able to do that,” Kilmer said.

Notification of expenditures to council

Taylor said he made the suggestion because there were expenditures the council should have known about sooner.

Taylor said wording should clearly state the council doesn’t have to be notified of small expenditures under a certain amount.

The council asked Taylor to work on wording and get back to them within 30 days.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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