You have seen them. The memes that give a profession and then the perspective of “what my parents think I do,” “what my friends think I do,” “what my kids think I do,” “what the public thinks I do” and then, the kicker, “what I actually do.” The same meme could be applied to the August recess of the Anne Arundel County Council.
It is not uncommon for the public to have a misconception of what a legislative recess means for the county council. It is an understandable misconception, with limited to no information on what takes place during this one month of the summer. With the August recess now concluded, I thought it may be helpful to understand how your tax dollars are at work instead of playing in the sandbox for summertime fun.
Unlike the Maryland General Assembly, in recess from mid-April until January, the Anne Arundel County Council takes only one month to recess every August. Don’t get me wrong, members of the General Assembly work intensively for the three-and-a-half months they are in session, and it is an incredible amount of work in a condensed time frame. This differs from the county council, which meets on the first and third Monday of every month to discuss and vote on legislation, except for August.
Bills take time to craft, sometimes a lot of time. Drafting one piece of legislation means an initial request and several rounds of revisions before meeting with departments that would be tasked with implementing the legislation if passed. This feedback and input can be critical to the success of a bill. Council members use the August recess to set up those important discussions with stakeholders in the community and county agencies to review legislation being considered for introduction in the months ahead.
August is also a time for county elected leaders from across the state to come together at the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) annual summer conference in Ocean City. This is a four-day conference led by the nonpartisan leadership of MACo, giving elected leaders across the 24 jurisdictions in Maryland’s education system collaborative opportunities on the issues we are all faced with in local government.
This year, I attended sessions on combating crime at the retail level; water, waste and workforce; and legal adult-use cannabis through the public health lens, especially how it relates to young children and our youth. These are just a few of the many educational opportunities across a variety of topics that are available for elected officials during this conference.
And while school may have been out, constituent services do not stop. Your Anne Arundel County Council District 5 office has been busy addressing the needs and concerns you send our way, with a caseload of over 200 for the summer of 2023.
The summer recess is also an important time for county council staff (administrative officer, assistant administrative officer, council counsel, support positions and the county auditor’s office). For 11 months out of the year, council staff is focused on preparing for “legislative Monday” meetings. The August recess gives 31 days to do everything else that allows for the legislative branch to operate as is required by county code.
This includes personnel-related duties, such as evaluating work performance and preparing performance reviews of employees. Staff will also assess legislative matters on an annual basis to ensure that nothing is missed or overlooked based on what is required annually. Staff will check and recheck lists, agendas and other organizational tools to make sure all items and documents are in order.
Council staff also use this time to follow up on legislation that has additional "tasks.” For example, if there were any bills passed that require approval from any state agencies, staff need to confirm that they received proof of that necessary action.
An assessment is also done in preparation for the council’s return to session. What annual initiatives or events are upcoming and/or are required by code? For example, the council must meet as the board of health in October. Staff must coordinate with the Anne Arundel County Department of Health for the planning of this critical meeting.
Our administrative officer also starts to lay the groundwork for new contracts or positions that were approved in the recent budget. In the current fiscal year, several new and necessary support positions are being added to the council office, including a dedicated information technology position for the legislative branch and legislative research staff member.
In the government, records are important. Council staff uses the recess to work on archiving closed files, a detail-filled task reviewing files for completeness and filling in any gaps with required details as a matter of record.
If 2020 showed the Anne Arundel County Council anything, it was a need to modernize. Council staff has continued to chip away at bringing past practices into the 21st century and deciding how to best proceed without violating important laws regarding transparency and the storage and accessibility of public information. This task includes scanning and filing into an e-library council documents dating back to 1970.
Maybe you have never thought of what the county council does during a summer recess. But if you have considered it, and images of tax dollars out on vacation came to mind, I hope this serves as a new image of “what we really do” when in recess.
As always, you can reach me for any county matters that concern you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.