Council members eligibility for county jobs, other charter amendments on November ballot

There will be seven amendments to the Harford County Charter that voters will have the chance to approve or reject in the Nov. 6 election.

At Know Your Vote, an event held Sept. 27 at Harford Community College, Dr. Stephanie Hallock broke down each question that will appear on the ballot and took questions from the audience.

Hallock, an associate professor of political science at HCC, was part of the review board that suggested changes to the county charter.

One of the most talked about issues is about county council members being hired by the county immediately after their term ends.

If approved, Question B would allow "county council members after they leave office to apply for employment with the Harford County Government."

As the charter reads now, council members can't accept any paid county position for two years after their council term ends.

Abingdon resident Vicki Seitzinger asked Hallock what the review committee's rationale was behind this recommendation.

"Two things," Hallock said, the first being that Harford is the "only county that has the two year requirement in place." Most counties have no requirement and some of just one year after a council term.

Second, she continued, the requirement may cause the county to lose "good, qualified people to Baltimore County" or surrounding jurisdictions.

Were there concerns brought up about corruption or favoritism, Seitzinger asked.

"There are pros and cons to all of these things," Hallock responded, adding that if things never change it becomes archaic and that's why the law was being voted on.

Another issue that has been brought up recently and will be on the November ballot is the matter of defining a pending zoning case for the board of appeals.

Since the Harford County council also serves as the board of appeals and hears zoning cases, many council members are hesitant to discuss matters with the public that could potentially become a zoning matter.

If the majority of residents approve Question E, then the definition of a pending zoning case would be clarified as "a current case filed and/or pending with the zoning hearing examiner, county council, Circuit Court for Harford County and/or court of appeals."

This would "attempt to clarify what the council may discuss and may not discuss," Hallock said.

County Councilman Dion Guthrie, who was in the audience, noted that this problem comes up in meetings frequently and the council has to leave the room when some matters are discussed.

The change in definition would allow council members to have conversations with constituents when they raise issues.

Also affecting the county council would be the possibility of "allowing an additional 15 days for the budget to be submitted by the county executive and adopted by the county council," Question G reads.

A vote in favor of this issue would mean the county executive's deadline to submit the annual budget to the council would be bumped to April 15, which is after the state budget has been finalized.

The reasoning behind this, Hallock said, is to avoid the number of changes made to the budget in direct correlation with the Maryland General Assembly's deadline to approve the state budget and, in turn, how much each county receives in funding for the year.

Question A deals with the vacancy of the county executive.

In the event of a vacancy before the end of a term, the county council would need to fill the county executive's position within 30 days "with a qualified voter of the same political party as the immediately preceding county executive," the question reads. "In the event a vacancy is filled 90 days or more prior to next congressional primary election, the position of county executive will appear on that ballot."

Those appointed or elected to the position would serve for the remainder of the un-expired term.

Guthrie commented that limiting the pool to just the same political party as the leaving county executive would eliminate "half of the county."

Posting requirements for public notices may become more strict.

Question F would require public notices to be posted in one newspaper widely circulated in Harford County and on an official website, such as Harford County Government.

The current practice is to run the notice in two newspapers and no requirement for putting it online.

Eligibility for the county's redistricting commission may be expanded to represent more political parties if residents vote "yes" for Question C.

The charter would expand "eligibility for appointment to the redistricting commission for any political party with at least 15 percent of the total registered voters and a representative not a member of a political party represented," the language reads.

Hallock said the intent is to "reflect the growth of Independent [party] registration."

The political affiliation with commission members is based on voter turnout at the most recent election rather than on voter registration.

Voting in favor of Question D would "modify the list of exempt personnel position to be consistent with the pay and classification plan," the question reads.

Hallock explained that this would mean the county executive, his or her chief of staff, the county council's attorney, council legislative aides and county auditor would be designated as "exempt serve" personnel who can be fired at will.

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