Last week the Commissioners decided which legislative proposals to send to the St. Mary’s County Delegation. Four proposals were approved, while three were not. The approved proposals were all submitted by departments in county government, including:

  1. Dept. of Finance requests authority to issue $56 million in bonds to finance projects.
  2. Dept. of Finance requested to extend the property transfer tax until 2028 (the original termination date was July 2020).
  3. Dept. of Aging request to allow low-stakes gaming at county senior centers.
  4. MetCom requests to amend/update/define language in local laws regarding sanitary districts and infrastructure.

There were also three citizen-submitted proposals. Two requested legislation to change voting for Commissioners from at-large to by-district. The third was a request to change offices like Sheriff and States Attorney to non-partisan races. 

During the 2021 legislative session, Delegate Crosby filed a bill, HB655, to accomplish by-district voting for the County Commissioners. The Commissioners were not a fan of this bill, their chief complaint being that it did not follow their preferred “process.” In other words, it was not discussed before being filed in the state house. The previous board of Commissioners voted twice to support an amendment to the bill requiring a referendum during the 2022 election, which would allow the people of St. Mary’s County to vote on this change. Ultimately, the bill did not pass.

At the Commissioner meeting on 12/6/22, Commissioner Colvin said state delegates and senators are open to legislative ideas from county residents. He continued by saying the three citizen-submitted proposals should be dismissed, and the citizens were advised to contact their respective state representatives. He did this despite a consensus at the meeting on November 29th that the Commissioners would take no position on citizen-submitted proposals and act only as a conduit through which they could be forwarded. 

“This board has made it clear that we are opposed to these changes in the past….I have no desire to forward something I am opposed to,” Colvin said at the December 6th meeting. Commissioners Guy and Alderson voted with Colvin to return these to the citizens. Commissioner Hewitt rightly pointed out that the standard procedure has been to forward proposals with no opinion from the Commissioners, with Commissioner Ostrow agreeing. 

It is disheartening the Commissioners continue to move the goalpost. They complained the process was not followed, but when the process was followed, they were still unsatisfied. It’s laughable for them to unanimously forward legislation allowing them to increase borrowing authority to spend more taxpayer money while ignoring resident input on various issues. 

Perhaps the Commissioners continue to stand in the way because they are afraid of losing their party’s majority on the Commissioner Board. Commissioner Colvin’s district would be a highly competitive seat if the district did voting. If all Commissioners should work together for the county’s good, as Colvin has argued in the past, then the political party should not matter. It shouldn’t matter for elected officials to make decisions, and it shouldn’t matter for residents who wish to participate in the process. Public servants should work together no matter how they are elected, no matter who does or does not vote for them. 

The arguments against voting by district say more about those who make them than they do about the idea itself. We vote for all other government representatives by district, and County Commissioners should be no different. 

When will the St. Mary’s County Commissioners take resident feedback seriously?

Brandon Russell

Leonardtown, MD

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1 Comment

  1. Brandon Russell’s comments need to be considered in the context that he is a former member of the St. Mary’s County Democratic Central Committee, and in the 2022 General Election he was a candidate for county commissioner and lost with only 39% of the vote, including not winning a majority in any of the residential commissioner districts. His advocacy of by-district rather than at-large voting is simply a ploy to gain a perceived advantage for the SMC Democratic Party, which has failed in commissioner elections since 2012. For Russell to suggest that “the political party should not matter” is contradicted by his staunch partisanship, including the use of the progressive “ActBlue” funding-raising organization.

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