ANNAPOLIS – Montgomery County voters approved three amendments to their charter and a statewide constitutional amendment on the county Tuesday.
The most controversial amendment was Question B, which allows the County Council to align itself with state regulations regarding open meetings and public information, but at the same time makes the county’s disclosure rules more restrictive.
“It dilutes the opportunity for the citizens of Montgomery County to get access to data that they originally were able to view,” said Marvin Weinman, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League. “We just want to retain rights that we currently have,” he said.
Question B, passed 55 to 45 percent, was approved by seven of the nine council members.
Opposing council members Howard Denis and Phil Andrews agreed with the open meetings rules, but argued that the Council should have passed its own law, rather than tying it to the state law, which could be weakened by the General Assembly in the future.
“In reality there shouldn’t be anything different,” said Mike Faden, Council staff attorney. “We have already been operating under state law.”
Questions A and C were passed overwhelmingly by the voters and were unanimously approved by the County Council.
Question C, which passed 67 to 33 percent will change the name of “emergency legislation” to “expedited legislation.” But the question also expanded the definition of the kinds of legislation the Council could expedite.
The process of speeding up approval of a bill was not changed, said Faden, but the new name clarifies when it’s necessary to hasten passage of laws.
“The bill still needs six votes before it can take effect, it’s just the terminology that is changing,’ said Faden.
But Question C also broadened the kinds of issues that can be expedited. By law, “emergency” legislation had to concern protection of public health or safety. Under the new language approved in Question C, an expedited bill must merely be in the “public interest.”
This change was prompted when a bill was passed to lease two schools for future use, but it was not seen as an “emergency” by many parents.
Question A on the ballot, was passed 60 to 40 percent. The amendment will allow the County Council to hire a lawyer for any legislative office without approval of the county attorney. The council voted unanimously in support.
The move allows the inspector general to hire independent legal counsel rather than rely on lawyers for the executive branch, which could be the subject of an investigation.
The statewide constitutional amendment that only affects Montgomery County would allow the County Council to appoint a real estate appraiser to estimate the fair market value of property subject to eminent domain. The amendment passed 59 to 41 percent.
All amendments passed without major opposition.
“There really wasn’t much controversy, only really over Question B because it was confusing to some people the way the language was worded,” said County Council President Steve Silverman.
The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County supported both Questions B and C, but did not take a position on Question A.
“We believe that because questions B and C put into statute the current practice of the Council, the impact will be minimal if any,” said First Vice- President of the League of Women voters of Montgomery County, Nancy Soreng.