CHARTER: What happens when the county executive vacates the office?

Before you read ahead here, please take a moment first to consider this question:

Under the new charter in Frederick County, what do you think happens if and when the county executive vacates the office for any reason (death, resignation, found guilty or pleads guilty to a “felony or a crime involving moral turpitude,” whatever?

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If you’re like almost everyone I’ve asked that question, you may have guessed — or assumed — that the county would hold a special election. After all, that is the way such vacancies are filled, in most places, most of the time.

Simply put, a special election is a non-scheduled elections, which might be held at any time of year, in order to fill vacancies created by death, resignation or removal from office. Across the country, this is a very common way to fill vacancies in municipal offices, county offices, and even school boards.

That said, it has not been how Frederick County has filled vacancies to the Board of County Commissioners or the Board of Education.

It hasn’t happened often, but it does happen. In early 2010, the Frederick County Republican Central Committee selected Blaine Young to fill the vacancy on the BOCC created when Charles Jenkins left the board to serve out the remainder of Rick Weldon’s term as a state delegate. And, in 2013, the Board of County Commissioners appointed Colleen Cusimano to the Frederick County Board of Education to serve out the remainder of James C. Reeder Jr.’s term after his untimely death.

In spite of that recent history, as I noted above, virtually everyone I’ve spoken with has thought or assumed that if the new county executive were to vacate the office, the voters of Frederick County would get to choose their replacement (for what could be three years or more).

You can download and review the complete charter, if you like: Adopted Frederick County Charter 2012

…but here is the relevant section:

408. Vacancy in the Office of County Executive

(a) A vacancy in the Office of the Executive shall exist upon the death or resignation of the Executive, or upon forfeiture of office as provided in Section 407 of this Charter. A majority of the council members shall appoint, within forty-five days, a person to fill the vacancy.

(b) An appointee, when succeeding a party member, shall be a member of the same political party as the person elected to such office and shall be a nominee of the County central committee of that party. If the County central committee fails to provide a nominee within the first thirty days of a vacancy, the Council shall appoint any person the Council deems qualified who is a member of the political party.

(c) If the Council has not made an appointment within the forty-five-day period provided in subsection (a) of this section, the Council shall appoint within fifteen days thereafter: (1) the nominee of the County central committee of the political party, if any, of the person who vacated the office, provided that the political party nominee was provided to the Council within the first thirty days of a vacancy, as required by subsection (b) of this section; or (2) the Chief Administrative Officer, if the person who vacated office was not a member of a political party.

(d) Any person appointed to fill a vacancy pursuant to this section, except the Chief Administrative Officer, shall meet the qualifications provided in Section 405 of this Charter.

Putting aside the technical deadlines, and assuming that the county executive is a Democrat or Republican, if the county executive vacates the office, for any reason, either the Frederick County Democratic Central Committee or the Frederick County Republican Central Committee will select the new county executive.

That means, for example, that if Blaine Young was to win the election for county executive, and he was unable to remain in office for some reason, the new county executive would be chosen by the same group — the Republican Central Committee — that made him a county commissioner in January, 2010.

Whether that makes sense to you or not, like it or not, that’s the way it is…for now. And, while there will be opportunities to fine tune and amend the charter in years to come, that won’t be happening for a few years.

But it is something to keep in mind when that time comes. And, in the meantime, perhaps it is one more thing to keep in mind when you vote this November.