Opinion: Frederick County’s Lesson in How to Betray Voters

Members of the Frederick County Council, with County Executive Jan H. Gardner (third from right). The Council members are, from left: Steve McKay, Kai Hagen, Jessica Fitzwater, Philip Dacey, Jerry Donald, M.C. Keegan-Ayer and Michael J. Blue. Frederick County Government Photo

I write on behalf of over 10,000 members of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland. As the Maryland legislature conducts its important work in Annapolis, injustice in Frederick County must be brought to light in the context of a statewide conversation. We share this example, from Frederick County, of how easily the will of the voters can be betrayed.

In November 2018, 72.7% of Frederick County voters approved a charter amendment to bring collective bargaining, with binding arbitration, for career firefighters via County Council ordinance.

However, the amendment set no deadline, leaving a major loophole.

According to the county’s attorneys, the County Council simply had to act in a “reasonable” timeframe.

In February 2020, the county is still without an ordinance.

But it gets worse.

Now there is a blatant attempt to redefine “binding arbitration,” at the expense of county employees.

It is important to note that the amendment which Frederick County voters approved parallels language in Anne Arundel County’s charter. Also note that the Maryland Court of Appeals decided issues which Frederick County Council members are raising now in the case Atkinson v. Anne Arundel County.

Yet, through a bill Councilmember Jessica Fitzwater (D) presented to the Council in January, she has attempted, with a pencil, to undo years of case law.

These actions are dramatically anti-labor, but worse, they are dramatically anti-voter.

County Council members continue to question the will of the voters following the voters’ overwhelming approval of the amendment. Consider the implication here — despite a referendum’s passage and the creation of law within a county charter.

Fitzwater’s legislation promises to engage labor organizations across the state, because what happens in Frederick County reverberates across Maryland. The 2022 election will be one to watch, but it does not solve the issue Fitzwater’s bill puts before us this month.

Although the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland are prepared to take necessary actions to support our local International Association of Fire Fighters affiliate and to remedy this wrong, Councilmember Fitzwater should do the right thing and amend the bill to conform to the statewide definition of binding arbitration and to the will of the voters.

— JEFFREY BUDDLE

The writer is president, Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland.