Howard County Council members on Wednesday were awaiting word from the county’s Office of Law about how to move forward after yesterday’s realization that the council’s votes on the controversial mulching and adequate public facilities ordinance bills were invalid.
The council’s office announced yesterday evening that bills, which the council approved on Nov. 6, had actually expired on Nov. 5, therefore invalidating the council members’ votes.
The county’s charter states that any bill not voted on within 65 days of its introduction automatically fails, but that bills may receive two 30-day extensions, giving them 125 total days before automatic failure. Both the APFO and mulching bills, which were introduced on July 3, had used their two 30-day extensions with the 125th day falling on Nov. 5.
Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said the problem likely stemmed from when the 30-day extension clause was added to the county’s charter in 2014. The council passed a resolution to extend the possible life of bills in July 2014, which was then approved by the voters in November 2014.
Sigaty, who served on the council at that time alongside current council members Jen Terrasa, Calvin Ball and Greg Fox, said that when they passed the resolution, the council members thought about the timeline of bills in months, rather than in days as the charter is written.
“I believe what happened was just one of those inadvertent actions. No malice, no nothing,” Sigaty said. “We layered on top of the 125 days our legislative calendar. And we had never had a circumstance before where the 125 days didn’t fit well within a four-month period.”
Sigaty said she has asked her staff to research how the charter could be amended to prevent the problem from happening in the future. An amendment to the county’s charter must be passed by a resident vote; the soonest residents could vote on a measure would be November 2018.
Councilman Calvin Ball suggested one way the charter could be amended would be to extend the life of a bill to 130 days total, to give future county councils more time to deliberate. He called the problem a “perfect storm” of the council running out of time to address all of the concerns related to the legislation.
Chairman Jon Weinstein said he had made a similar request to his staff as Sigaty did, and that he’d also asked council administrative staff to consult with the Office of Law on the best way to include on legislation the introduction date of bills and all possible expiration dates.
All five council members said they were not prepared to definitively say what the next steps were for the APFO and mulching bills and whether they would need to be entirely reintroduced to the council and go back through the full legislative process. The council members said they were awaiting advice from the county’s Office of Law about what their options were to deal with the situation.
If the bills must be introduced it likely would not occur until January 2018, as the council is prohibited from introducing new bills in December, with the exception of emergency legislation.