FOUR OF THE six proposed amendments to the Montgomery County charter that will be on the ballot tomorrow came from an 11-member bipartisan Charter Review Commission and were put on the ballot by the county council. They are Questions A through D, each of which merits a vote For. Questions E through F were petitioned to the ballot and have attracted the most attention and debate. In order, here are the subjects covered on the ballot:
Question a proposes a comprehensive revision of the county's personnel system and merit procedures. The county executive would be given authority to write personnel regulations, a function currently shared with the Personnel Board; and the county council would be empowered to pass laws affecting retirement without the recommendation of the Personnel Board, which would be changed into a Merit System Protection Board and would act as a watchdog of the merit system. There are constructive clarifications of responsibilities.
Question B would affect the price above which competitive bidding for county purchases or contracts is required. The charter currently requires such bidding for anything above $3,000; the change would give the council authority to pass legislation setting the dollar amount. This is realistic and gives the county flexibility to keep current with inflation.
Question C would permit the council the leeway it should have in scheduling legislative sessions, to accommodate holidays, vacations, snow and workload.
Question D would require the votes of five, rather than the present four, of the seven council members to override a veto or reduction of budget line items by the county executive. Already, five votes are needed for legislative matters, and approval of this change would treat fiscal matters in the same way.
Question E would add a section to the county charter that would prohibit the county from seeking permits or spending money to bury or trench sewage sludge on land zoned residential. Though proposals to prohibit sludge-entrenchment are popular, the matter is neither an appropriate nor necessary charter issue. Besides, the county government argues that trenching is only a temporary way of disposing of sewage until composting facilities are completed. There is some question, too, as to whether citizens may vote to remove the county government's right to spend money, since that power is granted by the state constitution.A vote AGAINST would avoid this unnecessary tinkering with the charter while leaving the county's options open.
Question F would require the council to provide by law for collective bargaining with police officers, with binding arbitration and a prohibition against police strikes. Montgomery is the only large county in the state that does not authorize collective bargaining for police officers. Those supporting the measure cite this as well as the provision banning strikes as improvements. But the county executive and others urging a vote AGAINST argue -- correctly, in our view -- that the procedures would diminish the accountability of elected officials for financial matters.