Bid for more clout stymies the council

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Council members' attempts to wrest some control from the county executive are facing another setback after members failed to pass three charter amendments, sending two of them back to the drawing board.

The council on Monday night rejected a measure that would have required the county executive to submit the budget 15 days earlier than the current May 1 deadline, giving the council more time to make adjustments. The 4-3 vote was short of the necessary five-vote supermajority.

The council also put on hold an already diluted amendment that would give the council greater oversight over intradepartmental money transfers and postponed a vote on a measure to give the council three appointments to the seven-member county ethics commission.

This month, Councilman Joshua J. Cohen, an Annapolis Democrat, withdrew an amendment that would have given the council four appointments to the seven-member planning advisory board, a committee that helps determine funding for building projects and is hand-picked by the county executive. Council members also scratched an amendment that would have authorized the council to pick its own attorney, rather than share the one appointed by the county executive.

County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, said the challenges to his office's authority were "ill-timed and ill-advised."

"These amendments are, for the most part, solutions looking for problems," said Leopold, adding that changes to the county charter should be made during the once-a-decade charter review process, which will begin in 2010, after his term expires.

Alan R. Friedman, Leopold's government relations director, said rewrites of the amendment reflect confusion among the council members.

"They are putting amendments forward, then they are withdrawing amendments; they are putting resolutions forward and then withdrawing resolutions," Friedman said after Monday's public hearing. "What you saw tonight was this sort of excruciatingly contorted attempt to get somewhere, and I am not even sure where they wanted to go."

Opponents to an amendment by council Chairwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, to change the budget timeline were concerned the new April deadline would fall too close to the last day of the General Assembly - the second Monday in April - when state funding decisions are finalized.

"I have been here a few terms, and I think the process has worked well," said Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican who has worked on 10 county budgets. "We have never had a problem adopting the budget within the May deadline."

Councilman G. James Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat, said he will rework his amendment that would grant the council three appointments to the county ethics commission - whose members are currently selected by Leopold - to instead give the county executive the right to approve those appointments.

The new draft will be based on the model of the five-member state Ethics Commission, for which one nominee is picked by the House speaker and another is picked by the president of the Senate. Both of those nominees must be approved by the governor, who also appoints three of the members.

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