Arundel voters to decide matters of big importance, resolve tiny snags

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Among the queries considered by the Anne Arundel County Council this year are issues large and small that lawmakers have asked voters to resolve:

Should the Anne Arundel County Council take a vacation in August?

What day should the county executive deliver his annual budget to the public?

Should the county executive retain line-item veto authority?

How should a council member convicted of a felony be removed from office?

The council placed a total of 15 local questions onto the ballot this year, making Anne Arundel's the largest ballot in the state and drawing concerns about voter fatigue. All the local questions, labeled Question A through Question O, would amend the county's charter and have been placed by council members in order of importance. Here is a brief guide to the issues in each question:

Question A: Timing of budget deliberations

The issue: Current law requires the county executive to send a budget by April 15 to the County Council, which has until June 1 to adopt it. Question A asks voters to shift the entire process two weeks later in order to let the Maryland General Assembly finish its budget work before the county administration's deadline. A "yes" vote shifts the time frame.

Questions B and C: Removing a county executive or a councilman from office

The issue: These questions set up identical provisions for removing local elected officials from office.

The proposed law allows five council members to vote out either a county executive or a fellow council member from office under three conditions: if that official is convicted of a felony, if that official is convicted of a misdemeanor that involves a "crime of moral turpitude or misfeasance or malfeasance" or if that official will be unable to perform duties for 180 consecutive days.

A "yes" vote on Question B sets up the process for the county executive; a "yes" vote on Question C does the same for council members.

Current law has provisions, though less well defined, for removing a county executive. None exists for removing a council member. The local questions are separate from a similar statewide measure on the ballot that would automatically remove from office any state or local elected official convicted of certain crimes.

Question D: Breaking ties on council vacancies

The issue: If the County Council deadlocks for more than 30 days on selecting a replacement for a vacant council seat, as it did earlier this year, this question spells out a solution. Current law doesn't prescribe one. A "yes" vote gives the county executive authority to break the tie.

Question E: Paying for retiree health care

The issue: The county pays health care premiums for retired workers out of its general fund. A "yes" vote allows the county to set up a "trust fund" to set aside money for the expense. Current law forbids a separate fund.

Question F: Revoking line-item veto

The issue: The county executive's office has authority to delete any part of legislation passed by the County Council except for budget measures. Under the proposed change, the county executive would keep the authority to veto an entire bill but would lose authority to delete parts of bills, except for zoning ordinances, which are often part of very complex bills. A "yes" vote would curtail the power of line-item veto, allowing it to apply only to zoning ordinances.

Question G: Defining the first day of a council term

The issue: This question changes the first day of a legislator's term. Current law says the term starts on the day after election, even though the council member is not sworn in until December. A "yes" vote starts a council member's term the day he or she is sworn into office.

Question H: August recess for the council

The issue: By law, the County Council currently meets at least twice a month. A "yes" vote would let the council skip meetings in August.

Question I: Frequency of audits

The issue: County agencies and special taxing districts undergo periodic audits by outside firms in addition to work done by the County Auditor's office. Current law requires an outside audit of county agencies only every four years. A "yes" vote would require an annual outside audit.

Question J: Spending "bond premium"

The issue: The county government sells bonds to finance construction projects and sometimes gets extra money upfront called "bond premium." In years past, the county has used that money to pay for ongoing expenses. A "yes" vote restricts how that money can be spent, limiting it to only construction projects.

Question K: Expanding the Charter Review Commission

The issue: Once a decade, five people are appointed by the council to review the charter and recommend improvements. Some of these 15 ballot questions come from that process. A "yes" vote would put seven people on the commission.

Questions L and M: Term limits

The issue: These questions would set term limits for two county boards. The county's Board of Appeals acts as a quasi-judicial arm of the county government, hearing appeals of administration decisions on everything from employment to zoning. The county's Ethics Commission reviews complaints, gives advice and administers the public ethics law. Currently, members on both boards can serve an unlimited number of four-years terms. A "yes" vote on Question L would create two-term limits for the Board of Appeals; a "yes" vote on Question M does the same for the Ethics Commission.

Question N: Unsigned laws

The issue: This question resolves a rare, technical hiccup that isn't addressed in current law. A "yes" vote makes clear that if the county executive returns a bill unsigned and without comment, it becomes law on the 10th day after it was sent to the county executive.

Question O: Digital copies

The issue: Each budget season, the county is required to print paper copies of the proposed budget, each about six inches' thick worth of paper. A "yes" vote allows the county to distribute electronic or digital copies instead.

For more information about the ballot questions, call the County Council's office at 410-222-1401 or visit aacounty.org/countycouncil and look for the "ballot questions" link.

ecox@baltsun.com

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