HoCo Charter is Better in Case of Death of County Executive

In the wake of the tragic death of Baltimore County County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a comparison of the Charter provisions in Howard and Baltimore Counties shows that Howard County is much better prepared to deal with the unfortunate circumstance of the death of an Executive. In fact, the Baltimore County Charter is actually ambiguously vague on who serves as acting Executive immediately after a death.

The Howard County Charter Vacancy provision covers all causes in which the office of Executive may become vacant including death, (resignation and forfeiture of office if the “Executive ceases to be a registered voter of the County or is convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude.” Section 302(b)(3)).  Section 302 (f) states that the Chief Administrative Officer immediately serves as acting Executive until the County Council appoints a new Executive within 30 days.

Howard County Charter Section 302. – The County Executive.

(f) Vacancy. Whenever for any cause the office of the Executive shall become vacant, the Chief Administrative Officer shall serve as acting Executive until a new Executive shall be appointed. The office of County Executive shall be filled by resolution within thirty days by the affirmative vote of a majority of the members of the Council. The person so elected by the Council shall possess the same qualifications for the office as provided in Section 302(b), shall belong to the same political party as his or her predecessor at the time of the Executive’s most recent election (unless his or her predecessor was not a member of a political party) and shall serve the unexpired term of his or her predecessor and until his or her successor shall qualify.

The temporary absence or disability provision applies if the Executive is away from the County perhaps because of travel to New York to meet with bond agencies, family vacation, or disabled due to illness.

(g) Temporary absence or disability. The Executive shall within thirty days upon taking office, designate in writing the Chief Administrative Officer or other appointive officer to perform the duties of the Executive during the latter’s temporary inability to perform by reason of absence from the County or disability. Such designation shall be filed with the Administrator of the Council. Any such designation may be revoked by the Executive at any time by filing a new designation with the Administrator of the Council. An Acting Executive shall have the same rights, duties, powers and obligations as an elected incumbent in said office except the power of veto.

In contrast, the Baltimore County Charter does not explicitly provide that the Chief Administrator Officer automatically serves as acting Executive in case of death, resignation, failure to stay a registered voter, or criminal conviction. Baltimore County’s statement on the Impact of Government says in part “The Baltimore County Charter stipulates that, when the County Executive is unable to fulfill his duties, the Chief Administrative Officer serves as Acting County Executive until the County Council appoints someone to fill out the remainder of his or her term.”  Yet, there is in fact no such provision applicable in the case of the death of the Executive in the Baltimore Charter for the temporary appointment of the Chief Administrative Officer. By its actual terms, Section 402 (b) states that in a vacancy there is no Executive until an appointment is made by the County Council. There is no 30-day deadline as in Howard County, which some in Baltimore County seem to be allowing for an unlimited amount of time. On the other hand, the absence of a deadline implies that the Council should act expeditiously to fill the vacancy caused by death.

Baltimore County Charter Sec. 402. – County executive.

(b) Vacancy. Whenever for any cause the office of the county executive shall become vacant, the same shall be filled by the affirmative vote of a majority of the total number of county council members established by this Charter. The person so elected by the council shall possess the same qualifications for the office as hereinabove provided in Section 402(a) hereof, shall belong to the same political party as his predecessor (unless his predecessor was not a member of a political party) and shall serve the unexpired term of his predecessor and until his successor shall qualify. (Bill No. 80, 1978, § 1) (Approved by voters Nov. 7, 1978; effective Dec. 8, 1978)

Baltimore County is proceeding under its temporary absence provision and the Administrative Officer is serving as Acting Executive. However, death is of course neither “temporary” nor is it a “disability.”

(c) Temporary absence of county executive. During the temporary disability or absence from the county of the county executive, the county administrative officer shall serve as acting county executive. If both the county executive and the county administrative officer are temporarily disabled or absent from the county, the director of the budget, as the acting county administrative officer, shall also serve as acting county executive, unless the county council designates the head of another office in the administrative services, or the director of public works to serve as acting county executive. If a county executive fails actively to perform the daily duties and responsibilities of his office for a continuous period of six months, his office may be declared vacant by the affirmative vote of a majority of the total number of county council members established by this Charter, and such vacancy shall thereupon be filled in the manner above provided in Section 402(b) of this Article. An acting county executive shall have the same rights, duties, powers and obligations as an elected incumbent of said office, exclusive, however, of the power of executive veto. (Bill No. 80, 1978, § 1) (Approved by voters Nov. 7, 1978; effective Dec. 8, 1978)

While Baltimore County is giving the language of their Charter the broadest interpretation to allow its Administrative Officer to serve as Acting Executive, this is not explicitly authorized, especially when compared to the language found in the Howard County Charter. The Baltimore County Council should clear up this ambiguity by appointing an Executive as soon a possible. In addition, Baltimore County should use Howard County’s Charter as a template and approve a Charter Amendment to specifically authorize an immediate Acting County Executive in case of death.

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