Wicomico County Council members have unveiled their roster of 21 citizens to thoroughly examine and possibly rewrite the document that governs county operations.
Fourteen people have been selected to serve directly on the 2021 Charter Review Committee, with seven additional county residents slotted to serve as alternates.
The group contains the expected sampling of established community leaders and former government officials, as well as some up-and-coming leadership figures.
The 14 committee members:
The seven alternate members:
Under the charter adopted in 2006, the county’s governing document must undergo scrutiny every decade. The panel will spend the better part of a year reviewing the document and suggesting changes.
Council members have already floated their own list of possible changes, ranging from abolishing the County Executive form of government, to tinkering with the much maligned property tax revenue cap, to mandating an in-house County Attorney.
Wicomico has only had two County Executives, but the notion of reverting back to the old system seems to emerge whenever the council and an executive have a significant disagreement. Dropping the elected executive would end 16 years of County Executive government.
The Revenue Cap has always been criticized as too complicated — there has always been suspicion that voters confused the Revenue Cap with a Tax Rate Cap in the 2004 referendum. According to the council’s current discussion points, if the county were to switch to a Tax Rate Cap, any increase in taxes would require a unanimous vote of the County Council.
Nearly a dozen council-initiated charter amendments have been approved by voters in recent years, entirely bypassing the citizen’s committee process. Most of those measures gave the council more power over county government by forcing the County Executive to subject more staff appointments for council approval.
The council, for example, also won an amendment that allowed it to hire its own attorney, rather than rely on the official County Attorney, whose loyalty was most often given to the County Executive.
The last Charter Review Committee was formed and made recommendations in 2011. In the years since, the County Council has amended the charter multiple times, with those changes being initiated by council members and approved by voters in a referendum.
The last complete rewriting of the charter occurred in 2006, when the County Executive form of government was implemented.
The committee is expected to begin work soon, as a lot of work is expected within a strict timetable.
The committee must complete its work so the County Council can weigh its recommendations, hold public meetings and to prepare language for any proposed Charter amendments for placement on the ballot of the general election in 2022.
The document has been at the center of several disputes between the County Executive and County Council in recent years, as each branch of government has chosen to interpret it in different ways.
One hope is the 2021 review exercise is that any gray areas in the charter be re-crafted to become more declarative.
The committee will be closely watched by government and business groups.
Earlier this year, the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce and its Business and Government Affairs Committee joined with the Greater Salisbury Committee to call for changes in the way the Charter Review Committee conducts business.
The Chamber and GSC have also called for a comprehensive rewrite of the charter.
GSC is also involved in making recommendations based on its historic role of identifying community problems and offering solutions.
The GSC’s President and CEO, Mike Dunn — who was selected as a Charter Review Committee member, has pointed out that competing charter interpretations has too often created tensions between the legislative and executive branches.
“I think anybody who has been paying attention to the goings-on of Wicomico County — good, bad and indifferent — the past five or six years, saw there were clearly questions on authority and what did the charter call for.”