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Proposed charter amendment would benefit next Harford executive

Two charter amendments, one which would greatly benefit the next county executive, were introduced at the Harford County Council's most recent legislative session on April 8.

One amendment would expand the scope of the county auditor's responsibilities and make deputy directors subject to the same appointment process as directors.

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Council President Billy Boniface said in a statement the deputy director amendment, introduced as Bill 14-18, "will create more transparency in the selection process and increase accountability of those appointed to carry out their duties."

The amendment would change a deputy director's employment status from classified to exempt, making the positions subject to the same appointment and confirmation process as directors, Boniface said.

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In other words, the deputy directors, who are currently protected from being arbitrarily fired, would serve at the pleasure of their department head and the county executive. Their initial hiring would also have to be confirmed by the county council, and their employment would be concurrent with the four-year term of the county executive.

By law, any charter amendment passed by the county council must still be approved in a voter referendum in the next general election.

Bill 14-18 is the second time is the second time in the past two years a council member has introduced a charter amendment that would have a direct bearing on personnel actions in the next county administration.

In 2012, Councilman Jim McMahan sponsored an amendment removing a two-year prohibition on county council members being employed by the county government after they leave office. Voters approved that amendment in the 2012 general election.

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Boniface, who is the sponsor of 14-18, is a close friend and supporter of Sen. Barry Glassman, who is considered the front runner in this year's race for county executive.

The auditor amendment, Bill 14-17, would empower the county auditor conduct operational and performance audits with a majority vote by the County Council, Boniface said.

The auditor is already allowed to perform financial audits.

The amendment was recommended by an audit advisory board, he said. Several other jurisdictions already allow auditors such responsibilities.

Under Boniface's leadership the past eight years, the council set up its own auditing department and hired two fulltime auditors.

Bonface is not seeking re-election and will leave the council presidency in December.

Retirement pays bill

The council on April 8 also passed a bill to make an emergency appropriation of $1.2 million to cover the cost of unexpected retirements this fiscal year.

The county has already overspent its budget by more than $250,000 on retirements it did not foresee, County Treasurer Kathryn Hewitt told the council when the bill was introduced several weeks earlier.

Councilman Joe Woods was alone in voting against the bill.

Earlier this year, the council turned down a plan by County Executive David Craig for a buyout plan aimed at encouraging senior employees to retire.

Marijuana decriminalization

Woods questioned the wisdom of the General Assembly's recent decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

He wondered what will happen if someone thinks they can cross state lines, enter Aberdeen Proving Ground or be on the Chesapeake Bay with marijuana.

State and federal employees would also still not be allowed to test positive for the drug, he said.

Woods said he noticed other states that decriminalized marijuana had similar problems.

"People are losing their jobs because they did not realize there are still job requirements to stay drug-free," he said.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti added: "Decriminalization is not legalization."

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