County Executive Marc Elrich and his administration are asking voters to oppose a proposed change to the county charter that aims to give more power to the County Council regarding removal of the county attorney.
The proposed amendment to the county charter, identified as Question A on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, would allow either the council or the executive to remove the county attorney through a defined process and was recommended by former County Attorney Marc Hansen.
According to the proposed change, if the county executive chooses to fire the county attorney, then the executive must provide notice to the council within three days. The county charter currently does not include the council as part of the removal process if the county executive decides to remove the county attorney.
The council would be required to approve the removal by a majority vote and would have 30 days to do so after receiving notice from the county executive. If the council did not act within 30 days, then the county attorney would not be removed.
In another scenario under the proposed change, the council could choose to remove the county attorney via a supermajority vote, or a vote of at least two-thirds of all members (with an 11-member council, eight members would need to vote to remove). The council would then be required to provide notice to the county executive within three days of its decision. The executive then would have 15 days to choose whether to remove the attorney — and if the executive doesn’t act, the attorney would remain in the post.
The proposed amendment would require that the county attorney be placed on paid leave in either scenario until a final decision was made. Hansen recommended the above changes because he believed the county attorney serves at both the pleasure of the executive and legislative branches, and that the new system would create a better balance of power between the two.
Chief Administrative Officer Rich Madaleno told reporters on Tuesday that Elrich and his administration oppose the approval of the ballot question because the requirement that the council sign off on the dismissal of a county attorney could prevent an incoming county executive from appointing a new county attorney.
“Elections have consequences,” Madaleno said. “An executive should have the right to the legal counsel that he thinks is going to provide the best advice for the residents of the county, and not have to be limited to just the person who had been in the office before.”
In a practical sense, the council and county executive have been in agreement in recent years about who should serve as county attorney. Hansen retired as county attorney earlier this year after serving nearly four decades in that office.
According to the county charter, the county attorney shall be “the chief legal officer of the County, conduct all the law business of the County, be a legal advisor to the Council, and be the legal advisor to the County Executive, all departments, and other instrumentalities of the County Government.”
John Markovs, the deputy county attorney, was nominated by Elrich to succeed Hansen last month. The council unanimously approved his appointment on Oct. 25.
Elrich told reporters that the council has its own attorney, which the county executive has no power over. But the proposed charter amendment would allow the council to have power over an attorney that serves at the pleasure of both the council and county executive, creating what he believes is not a good system.
“It’s a really unbalanced situation and it puts one attorney accountable to two bodies where their attorney is only accountable to the County Council,” Elrich said. “It’s hard to understand why they’re doing this from an operational point of view.”
The County Council, meanwhile, unanimously voted in July to put the question on the ballot.