In Baltimore County, there are a number of important elected and unelected posts as there are all across the country. The County Administrative Officer is an interesting role that, according to the County Charter is responsible for being “…the chief budget officer of the county and to prepare and submit to the county executive for his approval and submission to the county council all county budgets.” Generally speaking, the County Administrative Officer (CAO) is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the County including all their finances. In a way, the CAO is the psuedo-Chief Financial Officer of the County. Sure, the budget needs to go through the County Executive and then the County Council before ultimately being approved – but it starts with the CAO.
And with a unanimous vote in 2011, the County Council chose to give the CAO additional powers: the power to execute contracts and leases on behalf of the county. That’s a fairly big power for an appointed officer of the County. Now, considering the role of this post, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we the people of Baltimore County have a say in this figure. Sure, we have a say in the fact that said officer is appointed / approved by those elected by the people. But, such a powerful figure should have an additional check – they should be elected by the people.
Now, the County Charter does place some rules on who is eligible to be the CAO:
The county administrative officer shall be appointed solely on the basis of his integrity and his executive and administrative qualifications for the performance of the duties of his office as hereinafter set forth. He shall have had, prior to his appointment, at least five years’ experience as an executive either in public service or private business, or both. He shall also be thoroughly familiar with modern accounting methods and budget procedures.
That said, familiarity with modern accounting methods is up to the opinion of the County Council and County Executive to interpret. I feel that the voters should be the ones to decide. I ask, how is this different than the direct election of the State Comptroller, who serves as Chief Financial Officer of the State; in a way, it’s the same position only localized. I call upon our County Legislators to consider this option: let’s modify the County Charter to directly elect our CAO. The power of this single, unelected individual who is beholden to only 8 people (the County Executive and the 7 member County Council) is responsible for the day-to-day operations / finances of the entire county. That person should be beholden to the people of Baltimore County for it is they who are truly being impacted by this position.
Cross-posted to Red Maryland