The present form of government of Montgomery County dates to November 1968 when the voters changed the form of government from a County Commission/County Manager system, as provided in the original 1948 home rule Charter, to a County Executive/County Council form of government. The first seven-member County Council was elected in 1970. Originally all of the Councilmembers were elected at large, i.e. by all of the voters. Five members were required to reside in their Councilmanic district. In November 1986 the voters amended the Charter to increase the number of Council seats in the 1990 election from seven to nine. Now five members are elected by the voters of their councilmanic district and four are elected at-large. Each voter may vote for five Councilmembers -- four at-large and one from the district in which they reside.
Montgomery County's Constitution is the county charter. In the United States, local governments are created by state governments.
The Maryland Constitution's County Home Rule Amendment, and the Express Powers Act passed by the General Assembly to implement it, allow counties to adopt their own Charters by vote of the people.
The County Charter gives the County home rule and vests in the County Council "all law making powers heretofore exercised by the General Assembly of Maryland but transferred to the people of the County by virtue of the adoption of [the] Charter."
The Charter defines the Council's powers in three major areas: legislation, land use,and the budget, and governs the balance of power between the Council and the County Executive. The Charter provides:
- That the County Executive must provide the Council "with any information concerning the Executive Branch that the Council may require for the exercise of its powers;"
- For the process for establishing Councilmanic districts;
- For the four-year term for Councilmembers;
- That the Council shall meet on the first and third Tuesdays of each month for the enactment of legislation "and such additional days as the Council may determine," and that the Council must be in legislative session to introduce or enact laws no more than 45 legislative days per year ; and
- For the Merit System that governs the officers and employees of the County government and outlines the rules governing political activity and the code of ethics.
Every four years, the Council is required to appoint a Charter Review Commission that makes recommendations on changes to the Charter. The Council then decides which Charter Amendments to place on the next November ballot. The State constitution also authorizes the amendment of the Charter by citizen petition to place amendments on the ballot.