Rejecting the advice of their established political leaders, voters in Prince George's County yesterday endorsed the election of all county council members from specific districts. They also voted two-to-one to require binding arbitration in prolonged county labor disputes with police and firefighters.
The vote for council districts represented a stunning defeat for the Democratic Party organization, which had sought to blunt the maverick proposal with two alternatives -- both defeated -- retaining all or part of the at-large representation on the county's legislative body.
The arbitration proposal, placed on the ballot by law enforcement groups, was opposed by County Executive Lawrence Hogan, who disagreed with the selection of an outside arbitration panel called for in the charter amendment.
Montgomery County voters, meanwhile voted two to one for a similar proposal that also requires binding arbitration in county labor disputes with police. The Montgomery measure, moreover, calls for collective bargaining with the officers, who unlike their counterparts in other large Maryland counties haven't had that right, while barring strikes by police.
Montgomery voters also overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment to block the county from burying or trenching sewage sludge on land zoned residential -- a measure whose significance became moot months ago when the state ordered the county to stop the practice.
Other local questions in both suburban counties, providing funds for various projects or concerning noncontroversial govenmental matters, passed easily.
Along with other Maryland voters, suburban residents were approving four of five statewide ballot questions that have no local impact here. These concern the makeup of the Anne Arundel County Council, as well as three measures for Baltimore involving its courts and urban renewal.
A proposal defeated here and statewide would have given the Wicomico County government on the Eastern Shore "quick-take" authority in condemnation cases where the property to be aquired for the public use was undeveloped. The measure would have bypassed the normal, time-consuming court procedures while paying the owner or placing in escrow an amount equal to the property's fair market value.
Voters were giving a three-to-one majority to court proposals in Baltimore that were once considered too controversial to appear on the statewide ballot.
One of the two proposals is an effort to untangle the remarkably complex city system of six separate courts -- each with its own elected clerk and patronage posts -- that has existed since 1967.
The consolidation of the courts and their clerks into a single system brings the city into line with Maryland's 23 counties, each of which has a single circuit court and clerk. The reform effort was seen as having racial overtones since three of the six clerks are blacks, reflecting the city's changed racial makeup. In recent years, some blacks regarded consolidation as a measure depriving them of newly won political spoils.
A companion measure abolishes a citizen's right to move a civil case from one court to another automatically without having to prove prejudice by the judge.
Voters statewide also approved a measure to allow the city to expand its program of low-interest rehabilitation loans to property owners who do not live in the building. The measure was designed to boost Baltimore's highly-touted urban renewal renaissance.
The state amendment affecting Anne Arundel County allows its voters to select the way they choose their county council -- at-large or by districts. The statewide vote was tied to a local referendum requiring candidates to win their districts in the primaries but to be elected countywide in general elections.