Charles County commissioners voted on Tuesday against forming a citizens panel to review allegations of police misconduct and against collective bargaining for sheriff's deputies.
The actions mean neither of the proposals will appear on the list of measures the commissioners would like to see passed by the state legislature during its 90-day session that begins in January.
Like many counties in Maryland, and all three in Southern Maryland, Charles County has only limited powers of self-rule and must seek General Assembly approval for many changes to its laws.
The rejected proposals were among the most controversial of three dozen ideas the Board of Commissioners considered. Each year, the commissioners invite suggestions for legislation from their own county government department heads and from the public.
The Charles County branch of the NAACP forwarded the suggestion for a citizens review panel.
NAACP leaders said some residents had been subjected to "over-aggressive" policing, including shoving, and that citizens were at times intimidated and confused by the complaint process at the Charles County sheriff's office.
Sheriff Fred Davis (R) expressed surprise at the criticism, saying he had worked hard to establish ties with community leaders, including NAACP members, and believed complaints were being satisfactorily resolved.
On Tuesday, several commissioners expressed concern that establishing a citizens review panel could be divisive.
"This is going to do absolutely nothing positive for this community," said Commissioner Robert J. Fuller (D-St. Charles). He said such a panel would erode the sheriff's authority and "split the community along racial lines."
The proposal's backers said the measure would benefit the entire community.
"It will not tear this county apart," said Reginald Kearney, a member of the NAACP who was defeated in a bid for county commissioner from Waldorf last year. "Let's not take it along racial lines. It's a community thing."
Commissioners voted 5 to 0 against the proposal. Instead, they urged the sheriff's office and the NAACP to work together to devise a complaint procedure acceptable to all.
Davis said he would continue to meet with the NAACP. He handed out a draft of a brochure explaining how to file a complaint and said he could distribute copies around the county.
"We're open for suggestions," Davis said. "If there's anything that makes it easier, I'm there."
NAACP branch president Wanda Wills Woodland said the group would take its request directly to the county's legislators while continuing to meet with Davis and county commissioners to bring about a "user-friendly system."
"It did put the problem on the table," Woodland said. "Now everyone is fully aware. They're no longer blind to it."
On the issue of collective bargaining for sheriff's deputies, the sole vote in favor was cast by Commissioner James M. Jarboe (D-Indian Head), who is an official of an unrelated union.
The Fraternal Order of Police said the proposal would not bind the sheriff or the commissioners to agree to bargains struck during negotiations on pay, benefits and work conditions, including hours. Davis told commissioners he needs flexibility in determining hours.
Commissioners who voted against the proposal said it was unclearly drawn. They expressed concern that they might be asked to judge aspects of a negotiated contract--for instance, by deciding whether to budget money for a pay raise.