Political Notes: Following the civility code in Frederick County | Politics & government


The oft-discussed “civility code” came up again during Tuesday night’s Frederick County Council meeting.

Councilman Billy Shreve (R) — the only member who didn’t vote in favor of the code when it was adopted in 2015 — came armed with copies for everyone on Tuesday. He passed them out during the council members’ comment time at the end of the meeting.

What spurred the handouts?

An exchange last week during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Then, Steve McKay, of RALE prominence, gave statements countering statements made during the meeting a week before that.

McKay was critical of public comments from Robert Lawrence, a former county planning commissioner who urged the council to consider the effect of keeping the current property tax on senior citizens who live on a fixed income and would see their property tax bills increase.

The gist of McKay’s testimony was that Lawrence’s decisions on the planning board added new homes to the county that would drive up needs for services and infrastructure, in turn driving the need for increased revenue.

“You reap what you sow,” McKay said, before he was cut off by Shreve asking for a “point of order” to determine whether McKay’s comments violated the civility code.

“It appears in line with comments that go on here often,” County Attorney Wendy Kearney said at the time.

Fast forward to this week, when Shreve read parts of the code aloud during the meeting.

It is true that the resolution passed by the council almost exactly two years earlier addressed more than just the council, stating that “civility requires elected and appointed officials, as well as staff, applicants, and members of the public to comport themselves in a matter that permits honest efforts at understanding the views and reasoning of others.”

Shreve said he felt Kearney’s interpretation a week earlier — that the code should be enforced on the council level — was incorrect.

But rebuttals came quickly.

“I would be very, very happy if the chair, our staff or any members of the council up here want to better enforce the civility code,” Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater said. But Shreve had already left the meeting, ducking out after Councilman Jerry Donald’s comments, which focused on the property tax issue.

“Not really sure how civil it is to walk out in the middle of council member comments, so I’m not sure if my colleague wants the civility code to be enforced or not,” Fitzwater continued.

Council Vice President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said she didn’t view McKay’s comments as out of order.

“I’m not sure that would be comparable to some of the remarks that we ourselves up here many times throw out at each other,” she said.

Council President Bud Otis, who left the Republican party citing partisan vitriol early in his tenure, also chimed in.

“It’s ironic that this was brought up by the person who brought it to us,” Otis said. “I have been treated less civil by that individual member than any member on the council. And I think it’s unfortunate. I’d like to see this code enacted and used.”

Raskin questions presidential capacity

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-8th, has introduced the “Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity Act.”

Raskin — with his reputation as a constitutional policy wonk — would invoke a never-before-used provision of the 25th Amendment to create a panel that could declare that a president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

“The 25th Amendment was adopted 50 years ago, but Congress has never set up the body it calls for to determine presidential fitness in the event of physical or psychological incapacity. Now is the time to do it,” Raskin said in a news release announcing the bill.

While Section 4 of the amendment has not been used by Congress in the past, other provisions have. In particular, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush gave notice to Congress and delegated their presidential authority to vice presidents, in line with the amendment.

Raskin’s bill, which faces a tough crowd in the Republican-controlled chamber, would establish a 10-member nonpartisan commission. The measure has 20 co-sponsors, who are all, unsurprisingly, Democrats.

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Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines.

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