Code Provision Limiting Binding Arbitration Trumped By County’s Charter

In 2002, the voters of Anne Arundel County, Maryland adopted an amendment to the County Charter calling for the resolution by binding arbitration of collective bargaining impasses with the County’s law enforcement employees and firefighters. In 2003, the County Council adopted an ordinance implementing that Charter provision.

However, in 2011, the County Council amended the 2003 ordinance to provide that binding arbitration did not require the Council “to appropriate funds or enact legislation necessary to implement a final written award” in arbitration. The unions representing the law enforcement personnel and firefighters then sued, seeking to have the 2011 County code amendments to be declared unlawful since they conflicted with the County’s Charter.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, agreed with the unions and struck down the 2011 code provisions. The Court found that it was “settled that binding arbitration is an appropriate subject matter for inclusion in a county charter. The County Charter directs the County Council to adopt a binding arbitration ordinance that would be implemented in the budget process.”

The Court also described how the charter provision operated: “The Charter leaves fleshing out of the directive to the County Council. Authorization for binding arbitration can only be achieved by a public general law or by a Charter provision. Whether some portion of the County Council’s role in the budget process is to be transferred to a neutral arbitrator, in the event of an impasse in collective bargaining with public safety employees, affects the form and structure of government. To say that the voters of a county, exercising their power to amend the Charter, cannot direct that their policy decision be implemented by the County Council would be to hold that only the County Council ultimately can decide whether binding arbitration is County policy. That is contrary to our prior decisions.

“The provisions of Anne Arundel County ordinances dealing with binding arbitration are controlled by the County Charter. The Anne Arundel County Charter mandates that there be an ordinance adopting binding arbitration, implemented as part of the budget process, for the resolution of impasses in collective bargaining with public safety employees. The voters of Anne Arundel County determined that the County Council would not have discretion to reject the effect of binding arbitration. The 2011 Code provision attempting to repeal binding arbitration violates the Charter, and is of no effect.”

Atkinson v. Anne Arundel County, 2012 WL 4473226 (Md. 2012).