Charles County civil rights leaders want the county to establish a board that would hear allegations of police misconduct.
The request is among three dozen proposals vying for inclusion in the county's annual submission to Maryland's General Assembly.
Like other Southern Maryland counties, Charles has only limited powers of self-rule. Many changes in local laws need approval by the state legislature.
For instance, the General Assembly earlier this year approved changes to retirement pay for Charles County firefighters, and allowed a tax break for some businesses that are new to the county or are expanding.
Charles County commissioners will hold a public hearing tomorrow evening to accept testimony about this year's legislative proposals, which have been submitted by local government agencies and the public.
The commissioners will decide which to forward to the county's General Assembly delegation. Members of the delegation in turn will decide which proposals they submit for consideration by the legislature during its 90-day session that begins in January.
Proposals this year include those that would grant the county greater powers to demand the upkeep of dwellings; allow the county to expand tax breaks to help attract businesses; let police crack down on open-air drinking; and allow the establishment of charter schools, which use public funds but have autonomy in curriculum and administration.
The proposal for a board to consider police behavior was submitted by the Charles County branch of the NAACP.
The board would include police officers and civilians. The sheriff and the county commissioners would appoint members.
African American residents frequently complain of policing that is "over-aggressive," said branch president Wanda Wills Woodland. She said problems include "excessive shoving [and] excessive pushing" and poor medical care at the county's detention center.
Complaints that make it into the current review system at the sheriff's office are properly followed up, Woodland said. But, she said, residents often have difficulty obtaining the proper forms when they go to the sheriff's offices.
"People are getting the runaround," Woodland said. "We have to have something in place so the citizens of Charles County can feel comfortable about making a complaint."
The sheriff's office has not yet taken a stance on the proposal, said spokesman Craig Renner. But, Renner said, Sheriff Fred Davis (R) "is a little puzzled by it."
"We're not aware of any complaint that has not been resolved in a mutually satisfactory manner," Renner said.
Renner said Davis has made it a priority "to build and reinforce community ties, and has gone to great lengths to address any concerns raised by the NAACP, or any citizen, or any other organization."
Woodland said a board might reduce "over-zealous" policing, which would be a first step toward reducing incarceration rates for African Americans. The Charles County Detention Center's population is about two-thirds African American, although African Americans make up about a quarter of the county's overall population, she said.
Other legislative proposals would:
* Let commissioners impose a fee upon new dwellings that would help pay for acquiring and developing parks. A relative shortage of parks, and especially athletic fields, is a recurring subject for the commissioners.
The fee would be one possible way to alleviate the shortage, said County Administrator Eugene Lauer. No amount had been proposed, although Lauer said such a fee would be far less than the several thousand dollars that builders pay on each new home to fund new schools.
* Allow the county to set and enforce housing quality rules. Such rules now apply to rental housing, and commissioners are moving toward establishing standards for new construction. This would extend similar powers to existing housing.
* Restrict the possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages in public, and prohibit possession of open alcoholic drinks in motor vehicles, with the exception of charter buses and limousines. The law forbids possession of open alcoholic beverages outside shopping centers, but does not address other areas. A person may walk around a Charles County neighborhood with an open drink.
* Reduce from 25 to 10 the number of workers a business must employ in a new or expanded location in order to be eligible for breaks on county property taxes.
* Change election procedures. One proposal would have county commissioners elected by district. Currently, they must live in the district they represent but are elected by voters countywide.
Another proposal calls for elections for the Planning Commission and the Board of Appeals, whose members now are appointed. Commissioners last year declined to forward such proposals for legislative consideration, deferring to a committee currently studying whether there should be changes to the local form of government.