Wicomico Committee Begins Charter Review Discussions

SALISBURY – A list of proposed provisions will be up for discussion as a new committee begins the task of reviewing Wicomico’s charter for possible amendments.

On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council held a work session to discuss several proposed charter provisions that would be reviewed by a newly formed charter review committee.

“There’s 31 items,” said council attorney Bob Taylor. “Some of them of course are pretty much cut and dry. Others are not. Some of them are pretty involved and warrant looking at the charters from other counties just to see how other people do things. That takes a lot of time.”

Last month, the county council began accepting applications from Wicomico residents interested in serving on the charter review committee, which is convened at least once every 10 years for the purpose of reviewing the charter in its entirety and making recommendations to the county council. When the application process closed this week, officials said, the council had received 45 applications for the 15-person committee.

On Tuesday, the council held a closed work session to evaluate the applications and discuss appointments to the committee, but not before a lengthy discussion on its proposed charter provisions.

“These 31 recommendations are just recommendations that have come to the council over the last few years,” said Councilman John Cannon. “This is not a mandate for the committee. These are just items that can be given to the committee for them to make those decisions.”

The list of proposed recommendations presented this week touched on several long-debated topics, including the county’s tax revenue cap policy, the appointment and confirmation of department directors and the qualifications of the county executive, to name a few. Another topic for the committee’s consideration is if the county should change its charter back to a county council form of government.

Councilman Bill McCain told council members this week he wanted to discuss the proposed provisions with committee members, as they would be the ones making recommendations.

Council Administrator Laura Hurley said the council would review the committee’s recommendations once they are submitted. Those approved by resolution are then forwarded to the county attorney for certification before going to referendum.

Taylor noted, however, that the council did not have to approve every recommendation.

“The committee’s recommendations will come back to the council,” he said. “The council could do, essentially, anything it wants.”

Council members questioned the number of recommendations that could possibly go to referendum.

“I think the decision we’re going to have to make as a council is how far do we go with this,” Cannon said. “I’ve always said the charter as a whole needs to be completely redone, and when it goes to the ballot possibly the general public will be voting for a new charter.”

He said when he served on the last charter review committee, several recommendations were not brought to referendum for fear there would be too many ballot questions.

“How are we going to take these 31 suggestions – and there will be more this committee will recommend – how are we going to get that to the public on a ballot?” he asked.

McCain questioned if it should be a revised charter.

“If we’re going to change the charter completely, the folks who have volunteered for this will be in for more of a job than they thought they would be in for …,” Councilman Joe Holloway added.

Taylor said overhauling the county charter would take time, but that it could be done. He noted many charter provisions have remained unchanged since the 1960s.

“The charter was actually enacted back in the 60’s …,” he said. “When they did the revision to change over to a county executive form of government, they did a complete charter but essentially it was tweaked to the county executive form. There wasn’t much change other than that.”

Holloway said the revision would not only take time, but extensive legal work.

Councilman Josh Hastings noted there were numerous council recommendations because the charter had not been revised sooner.

“I do think we need to have a more substantial process,” he said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.