Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's time to implement the charter on filling Council vacancies

In 2004, county voters overwhelmingly ratified a charter amendment supported by (among others)the county League of Women Voters allowing the Council by ordinance to provide for the filling of early vacancies in their body by election. The new charter language isn't specific as to whether vacancy-filling elections would take place in conjunction with or earlier than the next regularly-scheduled elections (which would be those of the presidential year), but the former would be easier and
probably less controversial. (Prince George's County has the latter system and a Laurel area seat has already been filled with a stand-apart special election won by Tom Dernoga.)

Unless the current Council introduces and succeeds in enacting such an ordinance before the new Council is elected, we're going to be stuck with the current system (where such vacancies are filled by the relevant party's Central Committee for as long as four years). Any suggested ordinance could have the Central Committee fill the vacancy only until the special election occurred.

I served on the last Charter Review Commission (which supported the vacancy-filling ordinance process that is now permissible) and remember testimony coming from the current Democratic Central Committee in opposition to such a charter amendment. It would diminish their power. Too bad.

This was the rationale provided in the Commission's report for the suggested amendment (which, as Question A, was supported so strongly by the voters):

"The Charter provides that the elected central committee of the vacating Councilmember's political party fills vacant Council positions. The Commission recommends filling a Council vacancy through a special election provided that such election can be held at the next scheduled general election. Such scheduling would minimize costs associated with holding a special election. The Commission recommends that the central committee continue to fill a Council vacancy until the special election or, if the vacancy occurs after the ballot deadline for a general election, until the end of the Council term.
The Commission's recommendation requires passage of an ordinance to enact a special election, rather than a provision directly in the Charter. This approach is suggested based upon legal advice from the Office of Law. Article XXI-A of the Maryland Constitution and the Express Powers Act prohibits the establishment of special election in a county charter."

The aforementioned legal problem is why the charter itself doesn't specify the vacancy-filling method and why it leaves such method for the Council to specify by ordinance.

I encourage readers to contact their Council member and urge them to introduce the necessary implementing legislation as soon as possible. To reiterate: Unless such an ordinance is enacted and signed before the new Council takes office, it won't affect them and we'll be stuck for up to four years with the choice of whoever's on the relevant Central Committee with any vacancies that may occur. Urge those Council members to do it for the sake of democracy and representative government.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheer lunacy. What's next? Abolishment of the Electoral College? Direct vote for the Senate?

Officials appointed by the party's Central Committee? Where have I heard that before?

Luckily, here in present-day 3006 we've adopted direct access democracy, avoiding the dilution of public choice that representative legislative government incurred, and instead now all vote instantly and wirelessly on all resolutions via our iPods. It does have its downfalls, however. Twice, both in 3000 and 3004, we elected Tivo leader. You'd think folks would be responsible enough to not use such forums for such sillyness. :)

All kidding aside, I agree designation of a replacement legislator should rest with the electorate. Doing so will, however, incur the delay, time, and expense of a special election. In this instance, foregoing fast and cheap for the sake of good sounds like the better deal.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

I'm glad you "agree designation of a replacement legislator should rest with the electorate." Under the proposal suggested by the Commission, there would be no extra cost. The replacement legislator (in this case, a Council member) would be elected in conjunction with the presidential year primary and general elections. Until then, the relevant Central Committee would appoint someone as they do now (except that right now the Central Committee's favorite can remain in office right past that election for as long as four years).

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