Maryland

Arundel councilman wants county attorney to be elected

Anne Arundel County voters pick the county's executive, council members, sheriff and several courthouse officials. If one council member has his way, they may soon also pick the county attorney.

Councilman Daryl Jones, a Severn Democrat, will introduce a resolution at Monday's council session that would make the county attorney's job an elected position. Currently, the county attorney is appointed by the county executive.

Jones also is introducing an alternative resolution that would ask voters to decide if the County Council should have the ability to confirm whoever is appointed county attorney.

The county attorney runs the county's Office of Law, which advises and represents the county executive, the County Council and county agencies in legal matters.

Jones said some council oversight of the position makes sense because the county attorney must advise the County Council, even though he or she owes the job to the county executive.

"If the interests of the County Council and the county executive do not meet, the question is: Who do you serve?" Jones said.

Most recently, some council members were not happy with County Attorney David Plymyer regarding an issue related to government grants to nonprofit groups. Council members were upset that County Executive Laura Neuman had not put as much grant money in her proposed budget as they wanted and left out organizations they thought were worthwhile.

When council members sought documents from the county executive's office about how the grants were decided, Plymyer advised Neuman that she could use executive privilege to withhold the documents.

But Plymyer noted that he's also advised the council members that they can claim legislative privilege to keep some of their emails and discussions private.

But while Plymyer and council members have not always seen eye-to-eye, he said Jones' idea to have County Council confirm the county attorney has merit.

"The county attorney really is the legal adviser to both branches of county government, and I think, at the end of the day, the council … has the right to have some role in that appointment process," Plymyer said, noting that is his personal opinion and not that of county government.

Plymyer is less sold on the idea of electing the county attorney, in part because there would be no way to dismiss the attorney if he or she is not doing a good job. Plymyer said he also needs to research whether the council has the authority to create a new elected position.

Plymyer was appointed county attorney by Neuman and previously spent about 30 years working in the county's Office of Law, which has about 20 attorneys on staff.

Neuman lost the Republican primary for county executive last month, so there will be a new county executive in office later this year who could appoint a new county attorney. The Republican nominee is state Del. Steve Schuh and the Democratic nominee is George F. Johnson IV, a former county sheriff who now runs the Natural Resources Police.

For either of Jones' proposals to go on the fall ballot, there needs to be a favorable vote by a supermajority of the council — five members of the seven-member panel. State elections officials need to have local ballot questions in hand by Aug. 18, so the council might need to schedule an extra meeting to vote in time. The council is scheduled to be in recess for the month of August.

If placed on the ballot, either proposal would need a majority vote in the general election to become law.

The County Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the Arundel Center, 44 Calvert St. in Annapolis.

pwood@baltsun.com

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