Every large organization occasionally needs to clean up its records to reflect the times, and so it is with Baltimore County where the county charter, first written and adopted in 1956 and updated periodically since, is showing its age. The difference, however, between Baltimore County and the Elks Club, your local youth sports league or some large corporation is that voters have to give their OK to those updates.
Thus, one of the unexpected joys (well, perhaps, “burdens” is the more apt word) of voting in Baltimore County this year is signing off on such housekeeping matters as making sure the charter uses gender neutral language, that it no longer refers to a county agency that hasn’t existed in years and — a personal favorite — that it’s updated to reflect the fact that it is not actually the county attorney’s job to keep a journal of council proceedings. Exciting? Not really. Necessary? Absolutely.
For those bored already, let’s cut to the chase: Vote “for” Questions A-O which, in addition to such administrative niceties, approves routine borrowing ordinances. Specifically Questions G-O give the county authority to go to the bond market to borrow the money to build such things as schools, parks, waterway improvements, government buildings, landfills and on and on. Technically, this doesn’t give county officials authority to go out and spend taxpayer dollars willy-nilly, only the authority to issue bonds when it is deemed necessary. Annual budgets still must be proposed by the county executive and approved by the full County Council.
Mind you, the ballot questions might have been controversial this year. The commission in charge of the charter review considered recommending that the County Council be expanded but ultimately chose not to do so. Now, there’s an issue that might have The Sun’s readers actually still paying attention at this point on their ballots. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, voters will have to get fired up over whether a bill before the council should be allowed to exist for 40 days before expiring or, as Question C provides, exist for 65 days which simply gives the council more time to ponder an issue — not usually a bad thing.
Or how about Question F, which makes it clear that the Department of Public Works is in charge of county transportation needs? Well, yes it is, and now, if approved by voters, it will be clear in the charter — along with the observation that transit, bike lanes and pedestrian improvements are part of the mix.
Looking for a question that might actually give you pause? Your best bet is Question E if only because it speaks to the always buzzworthy issue of compensation for top county officials. But once again, there’s a lot less there than meets the eye. The measure doesn’t change compensation — up or down — for so-called “exempt employees,” it merely clarifies that the council will need to pass legislation each year to formally outline how those salaries and benefits are determined. This already happens with merit employees so it’s an overdue matter of transparency.
Finally, we would point to Question D as an example of the routine and boring but necessary nature of the charter changes. It clarifies that a re-elected county executive must put his department heads up for re-confirmation before the County Council. That’s been standard practice for at least the past two administrations but, well, you never know. It’s a sensible policy and voters can feel good about endorsing it.