A primer on Baltimore County's ballot questions

When Baltimore County voters go to the polls — beginning this week in early voting — they’ll face 15 county ballot questions. Here’s a breakdown of what those questions mean.

QUESTION A: Technical changes to the Baltimore County Charter

The Baltimore County Charter is a legal document that spells out the way the government runs, but it has not been updated since 1990. In 2016, county voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question that requires a review of the charter every 10 years, an issue that was put forward by Councilman David Marks.

An advisory committee pored over the document in 2017 and recommended changes, and County Council members suggested their own as well. Question A, if passed, would make dozens of minor changes to the charter, such as removing references to departments whose names have changed and inserting modern gender references. (Apparently the writers of the charter apparently only imagined that men would hold office.)

QUESTION B: More changes to the Baltimore County Charter

The second question again makes updates to the charter, but are more substantial than the first group. For example, the county attorney would no longer have to keep a journal of County Council proceedings — because the council’s secretary already keeps more detailed meeting minutes.

Other changes that fall under this question include no longer requiring the county executive to serve on a recreation board or a social services board.

QUESTION C: Extending the life of legislation

Currently, when a bill is introduced to the Baltimore County Council, it must be voted on within 40 days or else it expires. This makes for what some say is a rushed process. This change to the county charter would extend the life of bills to 65 days, giving council members more time to consider bills and amendments — and giving the public more time to weigh in. This question, if adopted, also would remove a requirement that a bill can’t be voted on until at least 10 days after it has been introduced.

QUESTION D: Executive branch changes

This question involves more changes to the county charter, this time to the office of the county executive. Some of the changes are technical; the most substantive change requires a county executive who wins a second term to bring his department heads to the County Council for re-confirmation — something that was already done in practice. It also clarifies that while the county administrative officer supervises department heads, it is the county executive who appoints department heads.

QUESTION E: Benefits for top county officials

This change to the county charter would give the County Council oversight over the benefits granted to “exempt employees” — the top county officials who are also known as “at will employees.”

There is currently no formal system governing the pay and benefits of these employees. Such employees had been under an “executive benefits policy” with lucrative perks such as generous severance pay that was never approved by the County Council. After the policy was made public in 2017, then-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz scrapped it.

This question, if approved, would require the next county executive to recommend a compensation system that would need to be approved by the County Council.

QUESTION F: Focus on transportation

This change to the county charter would make clear that the Department of Public Works must oversee transportation issues, including roadways, mass transit, bike paths and sidewalks.

County Councilman David Marks tried to propose creation of a stand-alone Department of Transportation, but when he didn’t find enough support among council members, he settled instead for requiring transportation to be an official priority for the Department of Public Works.

QUESTIONS G through O: Borrowing ordinances

Baltimore County, like other local governments, pays for most of its construction projects by borrowing money in the form of bonds. The county charter gives voters the opportunity to sign off on the borrowing through ballot questions.

Questions G through O cover routine projected borrowing for schools, land preservation, waterway improvements, parks, public works, community improvements, government buildings, landfills and the community college.

pwood@baltsun.com

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