“Yes” on five statewide measures and Frederick County Question A

Of the five issues on the Maryland ballot this year, one is important by any measure, Question 4 to legalize marijuana. Criminalization has failed practically and is not supportable morally. Vote YES.

I am cautiously supportive of three court modernization measures. Question 1 would rename the state’s highest and next-highest courts to conform to the format in use in most other states: “Supreme Court” and “Appeals Court.” Question 3 would raise the threshold for full-dress jury trial from $15,000 to $25,000; given inflation, a change of this sort does not reflect any major policy change. Question 5 would authorize Howard County to follow Montgomery and Harford by absorbing the work of the orphan’s courts into the general circuit court system. Maryland is unusual among states in electing orphan’s court judges as a separate job (and on a partisan ballot line) and the merits of that arrangement are not so obvious as to impose it on jurisdictions that would rather follow usual court system practice. YES, YES, and YES.

Question 2 would require “that candidates for the state legislature maintain a primary place of abode in the district they wish to represent for at least six months prior to the date of their election or for as long as the district has been in existence.” While I have not found the explanations for this change to be ideally clear, I think the language makes sense. YES.

In Frederick County, I emphatically favor Question A, on authority over arbitration of firefighter union demands, which would help restore to the voters a power they should never have lost over public expenditures. Recovering this authority is vital for both fiscal soundness and democratic practice. Here is Council Member Steve McKay’s description:

Back in 2018, the public voted in favor of a Charter amendment brought by the Career Firefighters to give them binding arbitration. What did that mean? Under binding arbitration, when the County and the firefighters union can’t agree on a new contract, they must submit to a third party arbitrator, who then makes the decision. The problem that I’ve had with this is that the arbitrators in this region uniformly side with the unions. In other words, the union doesn’t have a good reason to compromise with the County when they know they can win at arbitration. But my concern is neither here nor there, because that’s what the voters decided in 2018.

The problem is that it created a conflict in our Charter. The County Executive negotiates the union contract. It would be the County Executive and union who would be parties to the binding arbitration process, which would result in a proscribed funding amount for the union that would then be part of the County Executive’s budget proposal to the Council. This is where the conflict arises. The Charter gives the County Council independent budget authorities from the County Executive. We can reduce or approve (but not increase) the County Executive’s funding requests in the budget. The Council isn’t party to the binding arbitration agreement, and we have independent Charter authority to reduce budget items – potentially including the funds for a binding arbitration agreement. Frankly, the 2018 Charter amendment should have specifically addressed this issue – but it didn’t. Since then, the union (or a Council member) could have addressed this issue with a Charter amendment in 2020 or now, but nobody did.

So what does Question A do? It simply provides clarifying language in the Charter and allows the voters to indicate that they understand that the County Council has these separate budget authorities, including the sole authority to approve or disapprove of the use of County funding to support a binding arbitration agreement.

Vote YES on Question A.

Question B would authorize fringe benefits for Frederick County council members. In adopting charter government, Frederick County decided on a citizen council, not meant to be a full-time job. By offering fringe benefits, the county would take a material step toward an employment model. Vote NO on Question B.


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