Council considers requiring county executive to hold budget hearings

County Executive Steve Schuh.

Since 2014, Anne Arundel County residents have had the chance to sound off on budget priorities at town hall meetings scheduled before the annual spending plan is released.

County Councilman Andrew Pruski wants to ensure the fledgling tradition continues by making it an official requirement.


Pruski, D-Gambrills, has introduced a measure mandating that the county executive hold two public hearings before unveiling his or her budget each year. One of those meetings would have to be held in December, and the other would have to be scheduled at least a month before the council meets to examine the executive's recommendations.

"The more public conversations we can have about the budget, I think, the better," he said. "The intention is to involve the public more in the process, especially at the beginning."


The council is required by county charter to hold a public hearing on the budget each year before it takes a vote on the county executive's proposal. There is no such requirement in the charter for the executive.

Pruski said his proposal is modeled on similar requirements in Howard and Harford counties.

He has been an advocate for budget hearings since before he was elected to the council. As a candidate in 2014, he launched a campaign calling for the public to be afforded an opportunity to weigh in before the budget dropped.

Then-County Executive Laura Neuman decided to hold two budget town halls in February 2014. Current County Executive Steve Schuh has continued the practice, holding three public hearings on the budget last year and two this year, in April.

Schuh's spokesman Owen McEvoy called Pruski's proposal "redundant" and said the administration would be opposing it.

McEvoy said Schuh decided to continue holding budget hearings "because he thought it was a good idea."

"We're obviously committed to community engagement," he said. "Over the last two years we've hit every corner of the county."

McEvoy said Schuh views the proposed charter amendment as part of "an unsettling pattern" of what he sees as the council attempting to encroach on the boundaries of the executive branch.


In recent weeks, council members have questioned whether Schuh has the ability to privatize the county's public school health program — an option his administration has said it is considering — without the approval of the Board of Health, which is made up of council members sitting in another capacity to consider county health matters.

At its last meeting, the council approved an amendment to public notice legislation that would require the county executive's office to share with council members the contact information of residents who sign up to be notified about development plans.

McEvoy said both were examples of "legislative micromanagement of the executive branch."

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, disagreed.

"The administration has to understand they're the executive branch, we're the legislative branch — together we're the governing body of Anne Arundel County."

Trumbauer supports the charter change and said he couldn't "think of a downside for letting the public contribute their opinion."


Councilman Michael Peroutka, R-Millersville, said he understands Pruski's point about public input, especially given the budget's impact on the school system.

Recent budget hearings, he noted, "are really dominated by school teachers, administrators and employees."

But he was also sympathetic to Schuh's position.

"It's actually an attempt to codify something that's really already being done. In that one respect, one has to say, is this totally necessary?"

McEvoy said holding a first budget hearing in December would be too early, since the county doesn't have a full sense of its revenues until February.

Pruski said the objective of the hearings should be less about presenting financial projections and more about listening to constituents' priorities.


"Really the point of the hearings — while there's things that you present — it's really allowing the public to be heard," he said.

Pruski said the amendment wasn't aimed specifically at Schuh's administration, and is not a criticism of his leadership.

"This is something I said I thought was important early on, and I still believe that," he said. "I'm not looking to pick a fight or anything."

Because the requirement would change the charter, the public will have the chance to vote for or against it if it passes the council. Pruski's measure is the fifth of six charter amendments proposed this year; four are already headed to the general election ballot in November.

Other charter changes on the ballot ask county voters whether financial transfers outside of the budget process can be made right after they are approved by the council; whether the county should raise the cost threshold for purchases that trigger a formal procurement process from $25,000 to $50,000; whether to update the county charter's language involving public records requests to comply with the Maryland Public Information Act; and whether the county should be required to print an updated version of the code every decade.

The council will hold a public hearing June 6 on Pruski's measure.