Community Issues

County Charter Review Commission

Link to County website.

Creation of Commission

Bill 12-15, passed by the Council, and approved by the voters in the November 2016 General election, modified the County Charter to add a provision that creates a "decennial charter review commission, to be appointed the 7th year of each decade - consisting of:

  • 1 members appointed by each Council member
  • 2 members appointed by the County Executive
  • County attorney as ex-officio member
  • a chair appointed by the Chairperson of the County Council

The commission was actually created by Resolution 16-17.

Makeup of Commission

The members who were appointed are:

  • District 1: John V. Murphy, attorney with Murphy & Murphy, former Baltimore County Councilman
  • District 2: John B. Gontrum, attorney with Whiteford, Taylor and Preston
  • District 3: Netta Pray, retired Baltimore County Attorney
  • District 4: James R. Benjamin, Jr., attorney with Pessin Katz Law
  • District 5: Antonio (Tony) Campbell, former Baltimore County Republican Central Committee Chairman
  • District 6: Michael Paul Smith, attorney with Smith, Gildea & Schmidt
  • District 7: William A. McComas, attorney with Bowie and Jensen
  • County Executive appointees:
    1. Edward Gilliss, attorney with Royston Mueller, McLean & Reid, former Baltimore County Attorney
    2. David H. Karceski, attorney with Venable
  • Ex-officio: Mike Field, County attorney
  • Chair: Ted Venetoulis, past County Executive

Note the overwhelming preponderance of lawyers! Why is the deck stacked so badly against citizens? Sure looks like all the Democrats got together to make sure that there was one attorney from each of the big firms that represent developers.

To be honest, as I wrote to Councilwoman Almond, while each appointee might be a good choice, the sum total of so many lawyers (representing developers) prevents "regular" citizens from having any impact whatsoever on the final proposal. The end result may be a complete rejection of the revision by the public at the next General Election when the final package is put up for vote. This would be unfortunate, since it will be another 10 years before another full review would take place.

It is not clear whether or not Resolution 16-17 was considered as being an approval of the actual appointments. In other cases, there is an explicit requirement that appointments are approved by the Council, but the same does not appear to be the case here since they are not identified in either the Resolution or the Minutes for the Council meeting.

The Commission completed its work and the results were approved by the County Council for inclusion in the November 6 ballot.

Notes on meetings

  • February 22, 2017: (Organizational meeting): minutes
  • March 1: Agenda A general overview of Articles 1-4 of the Charter was provided by the County Attorney, with discussion of areas in which the members felt that changes might be needed. No decisions were made.
  • March 15, 7-9pm: It is expected that several Council members will be invited to provide their insight into desired changes.
  • March 22, 10am: Article 5 will be reviewed.

In a rather strange conversation at the end of March 1 meeting, one of the members expressed concern with himself having private conversations "one-on-one" with members of the public and thought it would be better if a member of the public who wanted to speak be invited to Commission meetings to do so. It is unknown what his concern is, since it should be the regular responsibility of a Commissioner on a County Commission (of which I once was) to talk to citizens from the district they represent and bring their ideas/comments to commission meetings. Otherwise, meetings could get unwieldy if many people asked to speak at each. Although the assembled members indicated that they agreed with his suggestion, it is unknown how this will, or can, be done in practice. We'll see!

I would expect a Commissioner to talk to citizens in private and maybe occasionally ask for one of them to be able to speak to the whole commission on a particular subject if they (the commissioner) feels that the citizen could present the issue better.

Issues Commission should have addressed

After extensive review of the Charter, and knowledge of past problems, I believe that the following issues should heve been addressed:

  • Definition, limits, and procedures for Emergency Legislation, effective dates.
  • Requirements of posting and notices for agendas, bills, financial statement, and budget.
  • Special procedures for bills affecting zoning (not changes in actual Zoning of property, but bills that change what can be done in a zone).
  • Communication between Council members and Executive staff.
  • Prohibition of Special Laws

Most of these issues came up at the March 1 meeting, but no changes resulted.

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Updated 6 Oct 2018 by MAP