Ballot proposal coming? County taking a close look at its new charter


FONDA -- The Montgomery County Legislature is gearing up to develop a ballot proposal amending the county charter, and an administrative code.

To aid the work, the legislature might hire a research analyst, who could doubly serve as deputy clerk.

This was discussed at the legislature's Education & Govern-ment Committee meeting last week.

"We're going to be tackling big things legislatively this year," said committee chairman and District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz.

Weitz referred to charter amendments suggested by the state Association of Counties in its extensive review of the voter-approved document.

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario went over the association's suggestions with the now-defunct board of supervisors last year, pointing to operational issues in the language.

However, in order to change charter matters dealing with the powers of elected officials, voters have to approve a referendum.

"It's our duty to ensure we have a solid charter that's not open to interpretation, and that it will succeed. In order for it to succeed, there need to be amendments made," Weitz said.

Weitz said if the legislature wants to meet the timetable to get a proposition on the November ballot, work needs to start now.

Legislators agreed to reach out to Acquario to guide them through the amendment process.

Weitz said it's also imperative that the legislature start developing a code as required by the charter.

According to the state's Local Government Handbook, the code details "organization and operations, and the powers and functions of the government which are enacted by the legislative body as a local law."

"As a general rule, the charter is subject to voter approval, but the administrative code is not, since it assigns no powers, but only specifies how powers are to be exercised, and how duties are to be carried out," the handbook says.

Together, the charter and code prescribe the method and extent to which the county carries out its legal powers and duties, according to the handbook.

"We should have had a code two weeks ago, but we couldn't. There was no way of doing that," Weitz said.

Weitz pointed out the legislature only has Clerk Cheryl Reese in its office to handle the volume of work. Plus, if she's out sick, or absent for any reason, there's no one to fill in.

"So far this month, since we've been sworn in, we've provided for staffing of the executive office, but we haven't taken a second look back at our office," Weitz said.

The charter says the clerk can appoint personnel "required for the efficient operation of the office of the clerk," so long as there is money appropriated for it.

"There's a lot of work to be done, and I can't do it by myself," Reese said.

District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler said she supports it.

"We need to set up for success," she said.

The committee moved a resolution establishing the position. It will appear before the full board at its Jan. 28 meeting.

The legislature is also taking a look at its rules and procedures. At its organizational meeting, the legislature adopted a set used by the supervisors, but several members have been reviewing the rules and considering changes and additions.

District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly proposed several changes, but nothing was approved.

Kelly suggested establishing a minority and majority leader, a super-majority requirement to appropriate fund balance or contingency funds in the adopted budget, and making the Finance Committee an appointment of all nine legislators.

In a nine-member legislature, a super-majority would require six affirmative votes instead of five.

"Under the previous administration -- we're trying to get away from that type of mentality -- I don't think they took budget process very seriously," Kelly said. "They would adopt the budget, and then it seemed every month they were amending, amending, amending."

"I know it's just one more vote, but I think it means something more to have a super-majority," Kelly continued. "It makes the adopted budget more structured, more supported."

There was a mixed reception to the minority/majority leader suggestion, but the others seemed better received.

District 9 Legislator Alex Kuchis said he wouldn't support the appointment of minority and majority leaders on the board.

"It smacks of New York state government," he said.