The overreaching of authority by Frederick County executive Jan Gardner(D) illustrates the need for an attorney representing the Frederick County council.
It is not surprising there is some confusion as charter government is implemented in Frederick County.
Watching the meeting held by the council on the 16th, it quickly became evident county attorney John Mathias, who works at the pleasure of the county executive, should not be the one giving advice to the council.
In their second meeting, council president Bud Otis(R) did not display a grasp of his position and council members would often ask questions poised to Mathias. In the future, they will hopefully make motions to receive answers to questions.
Initial questions posed by council member Billy Shreve(R) pertaining to the instructions issued by Gardner for Mathias to not represent the county in regard to a court hearing on a Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA) on Monrovia Towne Center brought about a response from Mathias directed to council president Bud Otis that he thought they had agreed this issue would not be on the agenda.
Mathias would then walk back Gardner’s instructions for him to not appear by saying the county was still representing their position on the agreement and that they had simply relinquished their time to the developers attorneys at this hearing.
A DRRA is a contract and having been agreed to by the previous board of county commissioners, the county executive does not have the authority to order the agreement not to be defended by county counsel.
At another point in the meeting when council members Shreve and Kirby Delauter(R), and Tony Chmelik(R) questioned the actions taken by Gardner to hire campaign supporters to new positions she created with the county, Mathias again said he understood this was not on the agenda to be discussed. When Delauter pointed out the council has the authority to subpoena witnesses and investigate issues, Mathias was quick to advice against this, saying it would be a poor start to the new charter government and that he would send a response to questions to council members.
In addition, when former board of commissioners Blaine Young(R) questioned the action taken by Gardner to transfer a county employee (who he admitted to having a relationship with), to another department at a loss of $40,000 in pay, there was again no satisfactory answer given.
Further evidence of the need for independent counsel for the county council were the actions taken by county attorney Mathias in regard to the recent appointment of Young to the Planning Commission.
In a letter to Young prior to the appointment, Mathias spelled out to Young how and when the appointment should be made and added his acceptance of the planning commission position would be deemed he had resigned from the board of county commissioners.
After Gardner was sworn in, Mathias sent a memo to her saying that it was a 50/50 proposition as to how Young’s acceptance of the planning commission position would be interpreted by law.
Mathias has been an excellent county attorney for many years and it is wise for Gardner to retain him.
However, with the implementation of charter government, it is clear the council, a separate body from the executive branch, should have their own legal staff.
It is understandable there will be growing pains during the implementation of charter. But, it is imperative, regardless of political party, charter government is implemented fairly in Frederick County with the appropriate checks and balances in place envisioned by the charter writing board.