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Howard voters to see referendum questions in November on citizen board terms, employment discrimination

Howard County voters will decide this fall whether to shorten the terms of citizen boards from five years to three and whether to widen the range of enshrined discrimination protections in the county charter, the County Council determined Monday night.

The questions will be put before voters as amendments to the charter, the set of laws that make up the foundation of the county’s system of government.

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The two charter questions were the only ones from 12 proposals that emerged Monday night from the council that will reach voters. Eight others failed in council votes and two were tabled until July 29.

The questions were among those developed by the council or put forth by the county’s Charter Review Commission, a 15-member group that reviews the document every eight years and makes charter modification recommendations to the council.

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Voters will see these questions on Election Day ballots Nov. 3.

The first ballot question, passed unanimously, will offer to shorten the appointment terms for citizen boards from five years to three. This recommendation originated from the commission and was developed by council members Christiana Mercer Rigby and Opel Jones.

“Some of the other feedback we received was that getting people to serve on a commission for five years is a long commitment,” commission Chair Yolanda Sonnier said. “Community members want to get involved, but they weren’t sure they could commit to that time.”

Jones suggested that passing the legislation would lead to more engagement in local government within the county.

The second question Howard voters will decide would add several anti-discriminatory clauses to the charter for the first time since the 1960s, according to Rigby.

The charter currently has discrimination protections for political or religious opinions or affiliations, race and sex. The amendment would remove sex from the protections and add “disability, color, national origin, age, occupation, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status and personal appearance,” according to the legislation.

Rigby and Jones introduced the question after seeing a previous similar recommendation by the Charter Review Commission in 2004 was never passed. After a lengthy discussion Monday, the council voted unanimously to put the question forward.

“It’s not about just sending a message,” Rigby said. “These protections haven’t been updated since the beginning of the charter [in 1968].”

The two tabled amendments propose changes to the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission.

Introduced by Council Chair Deb Jung, the first bill looks to align dates for the council to appoint individuals to the commission with state mandates.

The second bill, introduced by council member David Yungmann, would change the method of who is appointed to the commission. Currently the Democratic and Republican central committees select members for the commission; Yungmann’s legislation suggests the County Council appoint commission members.

Legislation to change the county’s charter required four votes in favor to put the questions on the general election ballot.

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The county’s Office of Law has to certify the referendum questions and provide them to the Board of Elections by July 31 in order for the questions to appear on the November ballot.

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