Friday, January 29, 2016

If Washington County was a Charter Government, Spong Replacement through Special Election

Washington County, MD - As reported by The Herald Mail, County Commissioner Spong resigned today after mounting controversy and even Governor Hogan requesting Spong's nomination be rejected. So what happens now?

Since Washington County is a County Commissioner form of government, the Republican Central Committee will interview and select a new County Commissioner. They will of course consider resident input, but ultimately the nomination is decided by the Central Committee.

But what if Washington County was a Charter government?

Since 1915, counties in Maryland have had the option to switch to a charter type government, in which the Executive branch is separated from the Legislative branch. County Commissioners are replaced with County Executive and council, and counties have additional legislative authority that would not require the county to go to Annapolis. This type of government is becoming very popular in Maryland, with Frederick County recently switching over to a charter government instead of County Commissioners.

One complaint of a significant portion of Washington County residents is that not enough resident input was considered during the nomination process of Spong, and that the central committee process was not transparent enough.

I am not here to take a stand and say if I felt the nomination process was sufficient. To be honest, I'm still undecided. However, I do understand if residents are concerned about the process producing a commissioner who ultimately had to resign due to controversy.

In 2014, an amendment was added to the Maryland constitution which allows charter government counties to hold special elections to replace county executives. They could already replace county council through special elections. A special election would have removed much of the controversy surrounding the nomination process.

How can Washington County become a Charter Government?

Washington County government investigated the process in 2006, and a report is available on the county website. A summary of the paths available to a charter government is below, from the 2006 report.
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Now I'm certainly not saying that a charter government would have avoided all of the controversy surrounding Spong, and I'm not saying definitively that Washington County must switch to a charter government to avoid future controversy. Far from it, even elected officials are subject to controversy, just ask Robert McKee.

However, I do feel it's worth considering for Washington County residents to take a look at the pros and cons of a charter government, and open a dialogue about the possibilities. Take a look at the 2006 report linked above, and start talking!

Ken Buckler is the editor of the WashCo Chronicle