Dorchester County Council’s actions ‘a total embarrassment’

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Citizens should watch the Charter Commission discussion, or lack thereof, at the Aug. 2 County Council meeting on Town Hall Streams, at townhallstreams.com/stream.php?location_id=153&id=46822, to see our County Council in action. It was a total embarrassment and a disservice to the citizens of this county, but especially members of the Charter Review Commission, who worked hard over the past few months to put a set of recommendations together under a very tight timeline.

Although this Commission is required by our charter to be appointed once every 10 years following the initial adoption of a charter in 2000, it was appointed by this Council two years late, and then its members were not given the go-ahead to proceed until more time had passed. The timing is important due to having to have any Council-endorsed ballot questions drafted in legal form and then sent to the Board of Elections in early August of the year of the election in order to appear on the ballot in November.

Not only were the Commission’s recommendations not discussed or debated, but three resolutions, none of which passed, were offered that had little to do with the Charter Review Commission’s work. The disrespect for the Commission's members and lack of a robust discussion and vote on any of the proposals to possibly advance some of these to the November ballot does a great disservice to county residents. There are plenty of problems in the way this government works, or perhaps more accurately, doesn’t work, which need to be addressed, and a number of the potential charter changes could have addressed these.

Apparently, there was some effort to call a special meeting to discuss the recommendations before the Aug. 2 meeting, but the excuse given was the “logistics” of arranging such a meeting. In any event, it could not garner enough votes to hold one.

Had this been held, the attorney retained to draft charter changes could have been given direction on what to draft for the Aug. 2 meeting based on votes up or down and tweaks made in the special meeting, and perhaps an open and constructive debate could have occurred on Aug. 2. 

It should be noted to their credit that Messrs. Travers and Pfeffer tried to get the Commission's recommendations considered on Aug. 2 but were outvoted by the other three. Mr. Travers was also in favor of holding a public, special meeting beforehand.

Fortunately, Ms. Nagel is not running again, and no one in his or her right mind should consider voting to return Mr. Newcomb to office in November. Mr. Nichols is unopposed, and it looks like we are stuck with him, unfortunately.

In observing and working with various County Councils or Boards of County Commissioners in Maryland for over 30 years, this may be the worst Council I have ever seen. I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a Council or Board insult its own appointed board or commission members in such a fashion, even when they disagree with certain recommendations.

Contrast this to the current Cambridge City Council and its meetings. That Council respects its citizens and their opinions and those of the boards they appoint, and listens to and constructively discusses proposals and requests, provides back-up documents for the public to see in advance, and believes in governmental transparency.

Don’t take my word for it, watch this County Council meeting yourself!

In the meantime, Dorchester Citizens for Better Government, a grassroots organization seeking charter changes, continues to work on gathering signatures on petitions to force badly needed changes to the charter to the ballot. This can occur without Council action.

But it is a massive effort to gather the required signatures of registered voters in a county this big and mostly rural. This effort will apparently continue, however, in light of the Council’s Aug. 2 inaction, until enough signatures are gathered to place it on a ballot, even if not this November.

It is equally important however to pin down those running for the Council this November on whether or not they support most of the charter changes. A new Council could likely revisit the Charter Commission’s recommendations, perhaps along with the petition provisions, and itself place a number of those provisions on the November 2024 ballot.

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