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Two charter amendments, one controversial, on Harford's election ballot

Harford County's residents will be voting on two local ballot questions this election, one to permit expanded audits of county agencies and the other to make deputy directors at-will employees and which has generated controversy.

The local questions will be on Tuesday's general election ballot, along with two state constitutional amendments.

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Question A would amend the county charter to "identify offices subject to audit as well as allowing for operational and performance audits to be conducted by the County Auditor upon a majority vote of the County Council."

Question B would amend the charter to "include all Deputy Directors of the Executive Branch in the exempt services, making them non-classified and at-will employees. These positions shall be appointed by the County Executive and subject to confirmation by the County Council."

The proposal to make deputy directors subject to the appointment process was vetoed by County Executive David Craig following its passage by the county council this summer, but the council easily overrode him.

Craig, who is leaving office Dec. 1, argued that preserving the deputy directors' continuity is important to county agencies during the transition period of a new administration.

He said ending job protections for them would leave county agencies in greater flux. Several directors of county departments also protested the proposal.

Council President Billy Boniface, however, said the change would create more transparency in selecting the deputy directors and increase accountability of the appointees. Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti was alone among the council members in opposing the change.

The deputy director amendment has the backing of Republican county executive candidate Barry Glassman, who is a prohibitive favorite to be elected.

Under the county charter, the county executive appoints the directors of 15 departments, subject to council confirmation. If the amendment passes, the deputy directors would have to go through the same appointment and confirmation process every four years.

A few deputy directors, among them those in planning and zoning and treasury, have had their positions since before Craig became county executive in mid-2005. Meanwhile, the county employee directory lists four deputy directors in public works, one for the department as a whole and one each overseeing environmental services, highways and water and sewer.

The other proposed charter amendment would allow the county auditor, who is an appointee of the county council, to conduct performance audits and operational audits of any department, agency or organization that receives funding from the county government. Currently, the auditor, whose post was created in an earlier charter amendment, is restricted to conducting financial audits.

County Auditor Chrystal Brooks, who has been pushing for the change for months, said many other Maryland jurisdictions conduct such audits, which analyze whether programs or events meet their objectives.

The two proposed state constitutional amendments appear on the ballot as Question 1 and Question 2.

Question 1 would prohibit the legislature and governor from using state transportation trust fund money for non-transportation purposes.

Question 2 would give charter counties like Harford authority to hold special elections to fill a vacancy in the office of county executive. Under the existing county charter, any such vacancy is filled by a majority vote of the county council.

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