Straw poll put on bal­lot

Record Observer - - Front Page - By JACK SHAUM jshaum@kibay­

AN­NAPO­LIS — A straw poll ask­ing for the opin­ion of Queen Anne’s County vot­ers on whether county com­mis­sion­ers should be elected by district will be on the Novem­ber bal­lot.

On Mon­day, April 11, the last day of the 2016 ses­sion of the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly, the State Se­nate voted 41-0 to ap­prove House Bill 1344 de­signed to “de­ter­mine the sense of the vot­ers of the county on the is­sue of the method of elect­ing the mem­bers of the Board of County Com­mis­sion­ers.”

The bill, in­tro­duced by Del. Steve Arentz, R36-Queen Anne’s, had ear­lier been ap­proved by the House of Del­e­gates on a 138-0 vote on March 31.

The leg­is­la­tion di­rects that “the Queen Anne’s County Board of Elec­tions and the Board of County Com­mis­sion­ers of Queen Anne’s County shall do those things nec­es­sary and proper to place this ques­tion on the bal­lot pre­pared for the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion of 2016.”

Back­ers of the straw poll say it is non-bind­ing and only seeks to gauge pub­lic

opin­ion on whether res­i­dents want com­mis­sion­ers elected only by the vot­ers in the district in which they live, with the at-large com­mis­sioner con­tin­u­ing to be voted on county-wide. Cur­rently com­mis­sioner can­di­dates for the four district seats and the at-large seat are voted on by vot­ers all across the county. That has been the case since the county went from three to five com­mis­sion­ers in 2002.

The non-par­ti­san De­part­ment of Leg­isla­tive Ser­vices, which re­views all bills, said in its fis­cal and pol­icy analy- sis of the leg­is­la­tion that the straw poll would have no im­pact on the fi­nances of Queen Anne’s County or the state.

Orig­i­nally, the bill also sought to ask vot­ers for their opin­ion on whether com­mis­sion­ers should be elected to stag­gered terms, such as three one elec­tion year and two an­other elec­tion year. How­ever, the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee re­moved that ques­tion be­fore ap­prov­ing the bill, mean­ing that the straw poll will only re­fer to elect­ing com­mis­sion­ers by district.

The Queen Anne’s County Coun­cil of Govern­ments, made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the county towns and the county govern­ment, has been seek­ing such a straw vote since last June and re­quested leg­is­la­tion to per­mit it. Three county com­mis­sion­ers — Jim Mo­ran, Jack Wil­son, and Robert Buckey — sent let­ters to the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee say­ing they fa­vored the straw poll. Buckey said that while he sup­ports the straw poll, he does not fa­vor elec­tions by district or on a stag­gered ba­sis.

COG rep­re­sen­ta­tives said Tues­day they are pleased that the straw poll leg­is­la­tion passed.

“Now the work be­gins,” said Ge­orge “Smokey” Sigler, Cen­tre­ville town coun­cil­man and COG pres­i­dent. “The work be­gins to get the word out to ev­ery­one that they can de­cide who they want as com­mis­sion­ers. We want to get the word out that their votes mat­ter.”

He said there will be town hall meet­ings in each district in which the mat­ter will be dis­cussed, and he be­lieves the League of Women Vot- ers, who ex­pressed an in­ter­est ear­lier, will be in­volved. He said he is pas­sion­ate about the is­sue.

Church Hill Town Com­mis­sioner Char­lie Rhodes also sits on the COG and said such pub­lic meet­ings will give peo­ple in ev­ery district an op­por­tu­nity to speak and be heard.

“This is an­other step in the evo­lu­tion of Queen Anne’s County,” Rhodes said

“I’m very, very happy that vot­ers can ex­press them­selves on this mat­ter. This is what we wanted,” said Queen­stown Town Com­mis­sioner Mike Bow­ell, who served on a COG com­mit­tee that stud­ied the mat­ter and made rec­om­men­da­tions as to how to pro­ceed.

Bow­ell said he be­lieves there is a lot of in­ter­est among the pub­lic about pos­si­ble changes in the elec­tion process, based on con­ver­sa­tions he has had with county res­i­dents.

“I’m happy the sys­tem worked. The tes­ti­mony went well,” Arentz said Tues­day. He said this will give the citizens a chance to have their say. He also said he ex­pects the county com­mis­sion­ers will be get­ting in­volved.

County Com­mis­sioner Steve Wil­son tes­ti­fied be­fore the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee op­pos­ing the straw poll and the pos­si­ble changes in the elec­tion pro- cess. He called the straw poll “dan­ger­ous” be­cause the “way to frame the ques­tion is very com­pli­cated and it’s hard to get the pub­lic to un­der­stand the com­plex­i­ties of this is­sue.”

He tes­ti­fied that the cur­rent sys­tem in the county has “worked quite suc­cess­fully with­out any par­tic­u­lar rea­son to think it’s dan­ger­ous,” he told the com­mit­tee dur­ing a March 9 hear­ing.

Also tes­ti­fy­ing against the straw poll be­fore both the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee and the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion, Health, and En­vi­ron­men­tal Com­mit­tee was Bar­bara Obert, who chaired a bi­par­ti­san com­mit­tee that stud­ied the county elec­tion process fol­low­ing pas­sage of a straw poll in 2000 that pre­ceded the change from three to five com­mis­sion­ers. That com­mit­tee, she said, rec­om­mended the cur­rent elec­tion process.

“At no time, by any­body propos­ing this straw vote, have I been queried about that ci­ti­zen-led process to de­ter­mine the struc­ture to­day, nor have other mem­bers,” Obert told the House com­mit­tee. “It pro­poses to dis­en­fran­chise thou­sands of vot­ers and most of all, it does spend tax­payer dol­lars to in­form ... a process that is very com­plex.”

The straw poll leg­is­la­tion will be­come ef­fec­tive July 1.



Quar­ter Auc­tion ben­e­fit for Pony Ex­press 4-H Club was held Sun­day af­ter­noon, March 6, at the 4-H Park in Cen­tre­ville. Mis­tress of ceremonies Mor­gan Starr and Club Pres­i­dent Jen­nifer Gannon hold some of the auc­tion items that were do­nated by lo­cal ven­dors. This is the Pony Ex­press 4-H Club’s 40th an­niver­sary year.

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