Anne Arundel County voters will have more to decide on this November than just their presidential candidate of choice.
The County Council recently passed three charter amendment resolutions, leaving many choices up to voters, including whether the Human Relations Commission should be required to exist.
The commission, which is independent from the legislative and executive branches, has the power to mediate, investigate and adjudicate matters of housing discrimination through the code, but approval from voters would require it to continue to be upheld by future administrations.
The council also passed a charter amendment that would change the county procurement process depending on the price range of the project. Another amendment would extend the limit of time county leaders could name an interim chief administrative officer or department head, giving the administration more time to find a candidate to permanently fill the position.
Charter amendment resolutions require five votes to pass and are then added to the ballot during the general election in November. The flurry of charter amendment resolutions up for discussion this summer is a result of an informal survey by County Executive Steuart Pittman’s office to departments early this year, asking the question: Which parts of the charter are standing in the way of the efficient and effective local government?
Government Affairs Officer Pete Baron said they took all the answers, looked at the county code and charter, and presented four resolutions for charter amendments. The responses they acted on came primarily from the police department, the fire department, and the Department of Recreation and Parks.
The resolution which would make permanent the Human Relations Commission was sponsored by Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills.
The commission was strengthened last summer as part of a slate of legislation meant to expand affordable housing availability. It’s duties and abilities are outlined in the county code, but now Pruski wants it to be required to exist in the county charter.
He said the national debates on racism and inequality that are bubbling across the country right now are strong indicators that the board, which can also advocate for equitable policy to elected officials, should be permanently implemented.
“When I consider (what is happening in the country) right now in the county, we need to improve human relations on all aspects,” Pruski said. “I see this as a very important commission in our county to try and deal with these injustices.”
Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, was the only member of the council who opposed the resolution. He said that although the legislation was pitched as a “good government initiative” it was more of a “political football.”
He said there was no need to require the commission in the charter when it is already codified and is already existing.
“As a government, we need to step up and deal with human relations in our county,” Pruski said. “There’s a lot of people debating issues that we have,people are protesting; whether we reopen. Human relations cover all those things.”
Pruski earned the support of five of his colleagues -- enough to get it on the ballot and let voters decide for themselves in November.
A charter amendment resolution that would free up smaller government procurement projects from having to go through a full Request for Proposal process was passed Monday night.
It would allow the county council to set the threshold for which projects are subject to the simplified process, and which projects are subject to the complicated RFP process. They could set it anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000 if voters approve the charter amendment.
The council also passed a charter amendment resolution which would change the time limits for interim county leaders including the chief administrative officer and department heads.
Under current law, an interim chief administrative officer or department head can sit in the role for 60 days. To extend it beyond that, a resolution must be approved by the county for a four-month extension, and another resolution is required for another extension of six months.
If voters approve the charter amendment, an interim chief administrative officer or department head could sit in the role for 120 days before having to get a resolution passed by the county council. Both extension periods approved by resolutions would then be six months, giving the county government more time to find a qualified candidate to permanently fill the role.
In addition to the three resolutions that passed, the council also debated an amendment that would change the way probationary periods work for new law enforcement officers. It would change the way initial probationary periods are implemented among county police, fire, detention and sheriff agencies.
Right now, officers are on probation for their first four months on the job, with the option for a manager to extend it another six months after that. For law enforcement officers, that probation period now starts when they begin their service academy.
If the ballot measure is successful, it would shift the start date of their probationary period to when they complete academy training and start on the job.
County Police Chief Timothy Altomare said he requested the legislation because he too often has to decide too soon whether to promote an officer past probationary status, or let them go.
“People have different speeds of learning,” Altomare said. “They have different needs for support.”
County Fire Chief Trisha Wolford said shifting the probationary period would give employees a better chance to achieve success within the respective departments.
Another amendment be up for a vote on July 20 would remove the hour limit for county contractual employees, many of whom work with the Department of Recreation and Parks in roles such as gatekeepers and lifeguards.
With the 1,500 hour limit, county government sometimes has to employ two part-time employees, rather than one full-time employee, just because an employee has reached their hourly limit. Officials say it is tedious, requires extra time spent on recruitment, and that institutional knowledge suffers with the increased turnover.
The council decided to hold the vote because of questions about whether contractual employees with no hourly time limit could essentially be treated as full-time employees, but not receive all the same benefits.