Submitted by Baltimore County Councilman David Marks:
In 2015, I sponsored the legislation that led to a voter referendum on the creation of a Baltimore County Charter
Review Commission. By a 78 percent margin, voters endorsed this concept, and now the County Council is charged with creating the commission to receive feedback and make recommendations on changes.
Recommendations first go to the County Council in a report. Then, by a supermajority of the members – five of seven – the County Council places any changes on the ballot. The voters must approve any changes to the County Charter, as they did in creating the Charter Review Commission in the first place.
I have received many questions about the makeup of the Commission. The person I chose to represent the Fifth District, Dr. Tony Campbell, is a political science professor at Towson University. He is not a lobbyist. He will bring, I believe, an outsider’s perspective to this body. If you disagree with the selections made by others, please keep in mind that delaying the start of the commission gives less time for public input, as a report must be submitted by a deadline later in 2017.
I will be making the following recommendations to the commission:
– Term Limits. In 2012, I introduced legislation that would amend the Charter to restrict County Councilmembers to three terms. Term limits provide an automatic turnover in government, and I believe voters deserve the opportunity to place them on Councilmembers as well as the County Executive, who already has a two term limit.
– Size of the County Council. The Charter established a seven member Council in the 1950s when Baltimore County was much smaller in population. I support enlarging the Council to nine members, which would likely give the Towson area its own representative. A larger Council would (1) create more compact, logical districts and preserve communities with shared interests; and (2) make it more likely that Councilmembers could truly serve in a part-time capacity, since they would represent far fewer people.
– Restrictions on Outside Employment. Current restrictions make it impossible for anyone employed by the state or local governments to serve on the County Council. While it is understandable that the framers of the Charter wanted to avoid conflicts of interest, it seems odd, for example, to prohibit a librarian at Towson University or a mechanic at Martin State Airport to represent his or her neighbors on the Council. These restrictions should be reviewed with an eye toward allowing broader participation on the Council.
– County Attorney. The County Council shares its legal counsel with the executive branch of government. The Commission should consider whether the County Council needs a distinct legal counsel.
– Notice and Broadcasting of Public Meetings. In an information age, the Commission should review the role of Internet in providing notice of public meetings and broadcasting those proceedings.
– Department of Public Works. Baltimore County needs a public works department that looks at transportation from an intermodal perspective, including more robust support for bicycling and pedestrian projects.
– Budget Authority for the County Council. Right now, the County Executive has tremendous power over the budget he or she submits. The County Council can only delete items. I believe the Council should have the power to place conditions on spending, as well as shift spending between categories if there is sufficient support among legislators—for example, a supermajority vote.
If you have any ideas, I invite you to submit them to Dr. Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baltimore County Councilman, Fifth District