Charles County commissioners asked the school board on Monday to again consider whether all teachers may be required to pay fees to the association that represents them in contract negotiations, even if they are not members.
Commissioners voted on five motions, four of them unsuccessful, to send the request back to the Board of Education, which tied 3 to 3 on the matter when it voted in September.
School board Chairman Wayne Cooper said the school board would not reconsider the issue. "The issue is closed," Cooper said Tuesday. "It lost, fair and square."
However, it was unclear if debate is finished on the matter, which now has elicited heated discussion before both of the county's major elected boards.
Board of Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large) on Monday indicated a willingness to supersede the school board, if necessary.
"They're not going to bring it up. We bring it up for them," Levy said. "I will not give the Board of Education a veto."
The Education Association of Charles County wants the right to negotiate with the Board of Education whether the association may charge nonmembers a so-called agency fee for representing them in contract negotiations and other proceedings.
The issue is sensitive in part because it has the potential to affect the pay and work conditions of some 1,500 public school teachers, three-fourths of whom belong to the politically active EACC. Those members, in turn, have the potential to affect local election results. The average winning margin in contested commissioner elections last year was 1,472 votes.
Discussion of the fees came as commissioners began choosing which legislation they want considered in the upcoming session of Maryland's General Assembly. Because the county has limited self-rule, it needs state legislative approval for many changes to its laws and procedures.
The commissioners held off discussion of proposals affecting law enforcement, saying they expect large crowds when they take up those issues on Tuesday. The proposals include one for collective bargaining for sheriff's deputies and another to create a citizens panel to review allegations of police misconduct.
Also on Monday, the commissioners:
* Approved a measure that would enable them to collect a parks fee of about $600 for each new dwelling built. They said the money would be used to help create needed parks.
The county has roughly 23 acres of park land for every 1,000 residents, compared with a standard of 30 acres, according to its adopted recreation plan. The plan said that to meet the standard as population grows, the county will need to acquire 2,768 acres by 2020--or roughly the total amount of park land it now has.
* Approved a measure that could lead to the county retracting a tax break granted to some owners of land in the development district, the northern fifth of the county designated to receive most of the housing growth. Some development district land is classified as agricultural, and taxed at a lower agricultural rate, even though its owners have applied for water and sewer taps, indicating an intent to develop.
* Approved measures that would allow commissioners to tax sand and gravel mines; to set standards for the appearance of existing housing; and to regulate the trucking of rubbish through the county, possibly by imposing hauling permits.
* Voted against a proposal to elect commissioners by district. Commissioners now are elected countywide, although they must live in the district they represent.
Critics of the current system say the arrangement dilutes the power of the county's built-up northern areas. Commissioners on Monday said it ensures they act on behalf of the entire county, rather than just one area.
* Relayed to the county's legislative delegation without comment a series of proposals that address issues of religion and morality, including a call for outlawing abortion.
The commissioners' actions are nonbinding recommendations to members of the county's legislative delegation, who decide which measures to advocate in Annapolis.
The Board of Commissioners' split on the teacher agency fees represented an unusual public rift for the body, which often operates with unanimous votes.
Several commissioners said they wanted to make no decision at all, calling the issue one that should be left to the school board.
"I have absolutely no interest in getting involved in labor relations" between the school board and the teachers, said Commissioner Robert J. Fuller (D-St. Charles), a former school board member.
Commissioner W. Daniel Mayer (R-La Plata) likewise said he wished to defer to the school board.
Commissioner Marland Deen (R-Waldorf) said he opposes agency fees.
The remaining two commissioners said they support the fees.
"It's unfair that a number of teachers benefit from the negotiations without financing them," Levy said. He was joined in that position by Commissioner James M. Jarboe (D-Indian Head).
"I was pleased," said Beth Thorsen, president of the teachers association. She said she would ask the school board to reopen the issue.