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Michael Zimmer: Voters control accountability

Accountability is a word we hear a lot when an election is pending. It seems to be one of those "eye of the beholder"-type terms. It can mean different things to different folks in different settings.

The headline from the Times' June 10 edition would seem to scream out for accountability: "Over 57,000 await first VA appointment." This was from an AP report covering the audit of wait list shenanigans by managers in Veterans Affairs.

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If government managers lied and manipulated data about veteran wait lists in order to gain performance bonuses and veterans died awaiting care, then one would think that criminal charges would be in order. I'm eager to see real-world consequences to those who would be so greed-driven and callous toward those who sacrificed so much to provide security for all of us.

Closer to home, we have observed that the health-care exchange in Maryland under the Affordable Care Act was not executed with efficiency for those who wished to sign up for such insurance coverage. In theory, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was in charge of implementing the ACA in Maryland.

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Based on the latest poll numbers, it would not seem that Democratic primary voters are particularly interested in dealing out accountability toward Brown in his campaign to become our next governor. The second leading contender, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, has raised the poor rollout of the exchange as a campaign issue in TV ads. Brown's own television ads have pushed back on that very point, claiming that Gansler is running against the ACA.

In the Carroll County races for delegate and senator, we have a new set of district lines. That might make it challenging for voters to hold candidates accountable for their past record. Incumbents who voted for various taxes and fees in the past may be an important consideration for some voters, who will have to research the incumbent senators and delegates in their newly drawn districts.

Votes for or against the governor's budget have also cropped up as an issue of dispute on the campaign trail. Senators from Carroll County point to additional funding for Carroll County Public Schools as a rationale for voting green on the most recent state budget. House members, however, say that money was never going to be approved in the final budget, which they take equal pride in voting against.

Hard to know how the accountability scales may balance out for General Assembly offices.

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At the commissioner level, we've seen a factional split over how to fund our local Board of Education. Both groups state the same goal. Each claims a desire to strengthen our schools. After that, it gets rather interesting to follow the charges and counter-charges of each faction.

One group, which has been in the minority for the last three years for the county budgets, suggest that the Board of Education needs to make structural changes in terms of infrastructure, such as closing schools, in order to compensate for lowering student population that has occurred over the last several years and is projected to continue for several more years.

The second faction that has held majority status for the last three county budgets maintains that such changes are not needed. Their solution emphasizes increases in per-pupil funding beyond the state minimum level known as maintenance of effort.

One key factor in this mix is that state funding of our public schools is based on a formula. One of the biggest factors in the formula is student population. When student population falls, as it has been in Carroll, then the state funding falls in accordance with that drop in the total number of students.

I claim no special knowledge as to which solution will truly strengthen our schools. I suspect either path would have a number of challenges for the next board of commissioners and the next Board of Education.

It would probably be better for the county to elect a strong majority of commissioners who share a consistent set of priorities in budgeting. I imagine that its quite stressful on staff for both the county and Carroll County Public Schools to observe a highly charged budget fight year after year by the commissioners.

With our district system for electing commissioners, it is anyone's guess whether the next board will be highly unified or highly frictional in the area of budgeting.

Michael Zimmer writes from Eldersburg. His column appears on Fridays. Email him at zimlaw64@gmail.com.

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