Following the passage of eight amendments to the Anne Arundel County Charter in the general election this month, government officials are now working to rewrite the charter in the 30 days after the election.
This year, voters passed all eight questions on the ballot. The questions ranged from extending term limits for council members to distinguishing between different types of emergency ordinances and making the charter gender neutral.
Most questions passed easily. The extension of term limits — from a maximum of two four-year terms to three for council members — passed with 80% of the vote while the emergency ordinance question passed with 89% of the vote.
By far the closest vote was whether to make the charter gender neutral. That question passed with 59% of the vote. An amendment renaming the commission that examines the charter to the Redistricting and Charter Revision Commission to more accurately reflect its role passed with 72% of the vote. The amendment also slightly altered the timeline of the group’s work.
In order to amend the charter a Charter Revision Commission convenes once a decade to analyze the document and recommend updates and improvements. It then passes those recommendations on to the County Council, which can draft legislation and vote to put questions centered on the suggested changes on the ballot.
According to state and local law, a charter amendment becomes effective 30 days after the election.
“This year we had eight questions, which is kind of a lot,” said Anne Arundel County Attorney Greg Swain in an interview Tuesday.
While the county attorney’s office and council staff try to get the digital and paper copy of the charter updated within 30 days of the election, Dec. 8, the new amendments become law by that time regardless, Swain said.
“We do it as quickly as possible. Part of the process involves getting the provider [of the digital charter, American Legal Publishing] to actually get it done so we don’t have complete control over the timeline, but they get it done as quickly as they can,” he said.
While the exact language that will be in the charter was approved months ago when the council voted to put the questions on the ballot, the gender neutrality amendment is a little trickier.
“That’s a unique one,” Swain said. “Rather than having a resolution that named every space in the code where that gender switch was necessary, which would have been a lot, we simply said the county attorney is going to do it.”
That process, identifying every gendered term in the charter, most of which are he/him pronouns, and replacing them with the most appropriate gender-neutral term, will likely be done by next week, Swain said.
Suggesting this change seemed pretty common sense to the commission, said Andrea Mansfield, the commission’s chair. She said she was surprised it didn’t get as much support among voters as the other amendments. It seemed something that should have been raised long ago since women have been allowed to serve in county government since the charter was created in 1964.
“I really don’t know why it wasn’t raised until this point in time,” Mansfield said. “From the commission’s perspective it just seemed to make sense. In this past term there have been several women that have been chair of the County Council. We’ve had female county executives so to refer to everything as him or chairman and things like that just didn’t seem to make sense anymore.”
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The most impactful change in terms of how county leaders legislate will be the emergency ordinance amendment, Swain said, which distinguishes between two types of emergency laws council members can employ — one centered around emergencies of well-being, such as laws related to pandemic procedure, and one based on meeting upcoming deadlines, such as the end of a fiscal quarter. Regular county laws don’t become effective for 45 days. Both of these types of emergency ordinances offer a way to implement laws faster.
“The biggest one that is process-related is the emergency ordinance provision. That’s something we’ve had issues with over the years — ‘What constitutes an emergency?’” Swain said. “We’ve clarified that, and I think that will make it a smoother process and will allow the council members to know which path to take if they have something that truly is an emergency.”
“There just seemed to be a lot of confusion about the process,” Mansfield added. “We wanted to provide clarity.”
Another notable change that will come as a result of the charter amendments is, now that council members can serve up to three consecutive four-year terms rather than two, they will be eligible for pensions, according to county Personnel Officer Anne Budowski.
In an email Tuesday, Budowski said based on county code, which states that county employees who serve more than 10 years get a pension, council members who serve three consecutive terms totaling 12 years will qualify, perhaps making it a more desirable position to run for.
Mansfield said the commission did flag the pension issue during its review of the charter but decided presenting the suggestion was worth the complications that could arise over paying pensions to council members.
“Twelve years is a long time to serve in something,” Mansfield said.