The first two announcements made from Frederick County’s first elected county executive have raised questions as to whether she has the authority to take the actions she took.
First, county executive Jan Gardner announced a handful of appointments that required changes in personnel rules according to Mitch Hose, director of Human Resources. Included in this announcement was the creation of new positions without approval from the county council. The council must approve the budget so some are questioning why the county executive did not submit to the council changes to the budget to pay for these positions.
In addition, the position of government policy/relations replaced the position previously held by David Dunn was an “at-will” which falls under division heads that must receive confirmation from the council for approval.
Secondly, Gardner followed up in her first week in office, by announcing she had instructed the county attorney to not attend a court proceeding to represent and defend the county position on a Developers Rights and Responsibility Agreement (DRRA). This DRRA pertained to the controversial Monrovia Town Center development, a major campaign issue during the recent election.
The charter clearly states land use authority rests with the council. One member of the charter writing committee told me they believed at a minimum, Gardner should have consulted the council before taking that action. Another member of the charter writing committee expressed concern with her action.
This is a good question for if the council approves a DRRA in the future and the county executive does not agree with it, do they have the authority to order the county attorney to not defend the DRRA, if contested in court?
If this is true, will the county council need to retain a lawyer to represent their positions?
The interaction between the county executive and county council will play out during this first term under the new charter and the actions taken by both will provide precedent for future councils and executives.
What is clear is the two bodies are separate deliberately to provide for a balance of power, well known in U.S. representative democracy.
Gardner, a former president of the board of commissions, will find the council is not a board of commissioners and members of the council will be learning their responsibilities and authority provided under the charter.
Look to see if the council challenges these actions taken by Gardner or allows them to stand.
I have heard Gardner is scheduling meetings with former Maryland county executives Doug Duncan (Montgomery) and Ken Ulman (Howard) to discuss how they functioned in the role of county executive during their time in office. This is a wise move.
Perhaps, the Frederick county council should also consult with existing county councils in the state to see how they interact with their county executives on these and other important issues.
One thing that appears certain is implementation of charter in Frederick County will likely be a work in progress over the first term.
Let’s hope both strive to exercise their authority appropriately and work together to provide a better future for Frederick County residents.