This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 12, 2022 to clarify the process for how the question got on the ballot.
A proposed county charter amendment that tweaks the removal process for the county attorney appeared poised to pass in Tuesday’s general election.
According to unofficial results posted at around 10:20 p.m., just under 75% of voters cast ballots in support of the amendment, which would give the County Council more power in the removal process.
The amendment states that if the county executive chooses to fire the county attorney, then the executive must provide notice to the council within three days. The county charter currently does not include the council as part of the removal process if the county executive decides to remove the county attorney.
The council would be required to approve the removal by a majority vote and would have 30 days to do so after receiving notice from the county executive. If the council did not act within 30 days, then the county attorney would not be removed.
In another scenario under the amendment, the council could choose to remove the county attorney via a supermajority vote, or a vote of at least two-thirds of all members (with an 11-member council, eight members would need to vote to remove). The council would then be required to provide notice to the county executive within three days of its decision. The executive then would have 15 days to choose whether to remove the attorney — and if the executive doesn’t act, the attorney would remain in the post.
The proposed amendment would require that the county attorney be placed on paid leave in either scenario until a final decision was made.
Former County Attorney Marc Hansen recommended the changes because he believed the county attorney serves at both the pleasure of the executive and legislative branches, and that the new system would create a better balance of power between the two. Even though the charter review commission felt it did not have sufficient time to review the ballot question proposal, the council agreed with Hansen earlier this year, voting to place it on the general election ballot.
But County Executive Marc Elrich and his administration opposed the amendment, saying the change in the removal process would prevent incoming county executives from appointing a new county attorney if they choose to do so. Elrich also said it would create a situation in which the county attorney reports to two branches, while the council attorney reports only to the legislative branch.