Montgomery County

Montgomery County charter commission hands final draft to supervisors

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors is looking over the final draft of a proposed charter tha

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors is looking over the final draft of a proposed charter that would eliminate their role in county government.

The County Charter Commission, formed several months ago, turned over to the board Friday its final proposal, along with suggested electoral district maps for a county legislature.

Currently 15 town supervisors and elected city representatives meet to deal with county matters, a system that hasn’t changed much since the 1700s.

“Because the responsibilities and expenses of running a county are vastly more complicated and higher than they were 200 years ago,” reads a statement written by commission member Orrie Eihacker, “our current form of government is no longer the most efficient way to meet these challenges.”

The new system outlined in the charter would replace the Board of Supervisors with a group of nine elected legislators from equally populated districts. Each legislator would be elected to a three-year term, with a maximum of four consecutive terms.

Also in the charter is an elected county executive to handle everyday management of the county. Currently, department heads are overseen by all 15 supervisors, which commission members believe leads to confusion and inefficiency.

Such a system change has been considered several times in the past but never came to fruition. Now that the process has come this far, there are a few public concerns.

“I’ve heard people worry that this will add another layer of government that will cost more tax dollars,” said Senior Planner Doug Greene, who assisted the commission. “There was always a county government, this is just making it more efficient.”

The final draft of the charter can’t definitively answer how much the change would cost, as the commission cannot decide how much each legislator would get paid. The elected executive would likely have staff, which brings an additional cost.

Public hearings revealed worry that since the executive candidates would not be required to have any specific qualifications in order to run, the position could be filled by an individual lacking the necessary experience.

In coming weeks, supervisors will review the charter, taking into account public concerns. A joint work session between the commission and the board will be held Aug. 7 to make any changes the board desires.

“The board is allowed to make changes right up to the point of just voting it down,” Greene said, “but the general consensus is that whatever they believe about the charter, they’ll pass it on to the voters to decide.”

If the board votes to move the charter, it will be on the ballot in November, requiring separate majorities in the city and towns to pass. If it does pass, the positions will be filled in the November 2013 elections and the new government will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

The final draft of the charter, along with electoral district maps and an informational packet, will be available for public viewing online or at the county clerk’s office by the end of this week.

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