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Carroll County Commissioner Eric Bouchat’s motions seeking to eliminate school board, planning commission roles fail

Commissioner Eric Bouchat attempted to change some of the inner workings of Carroll County government late in Thursday morning’s Board of Commissioners open session

His motions for proposed state legislation to eliminate the county’s ex-officio position from the Board of Education and Planning & Zoning Commission failed, but Bouchat stirred some conversation among the board.

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Bouchat, a Republican who represents District 4 in Carroll, recused himself from the county’s P&Z commission meeting Tuesday and said he would remain silent while watching further meetings. Bouchat recently began serving in ex-officio capacity (non-voting) on that commission and on the Carroll County Board of Education before deciding to seek restrictions.

On Thursday, Bouchat talked about some contention between the school board and board of commissioners, noting that the BOE is a separate, elected institution.

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“I think it’s important to give them their autonomy where we are not sitting on the board with them,” he said.

Bouchat said the county commissioners should watch school board meetings and learn from their agendas, and have staff members give briefings on topics, but he feels there’s an intimidation factor that arises from time to time.

County Attorney Tim Burke joined the meeting and spoke to the commissioners about surrounding counties and their procedures as they relate to Carroll’s. Burke said Carroll is the only county in Maryland in which county commissioners serve as ex-officio members of the school board.

As for the planning and zoning commission, Burke said that provision applies statewide to all counties and towns, and “provides that one member of the board of the governing body may be an ex-officio member of the local planning commission.” Burke said he noticed many counties in Maryland do not take advantage of that provision.

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Wicomico County uses a city and county council representative sitting as full members on its planning commission, Burke said. Baltimore City has a mayor’s rep and council rep as full-time members, he said. Cecil County uses two council members as ex-officio, he said, and Kent County chooses to use a planning director as its ex-officio rather than utilize a county commissioner (Burke said Kent County uses a commissioner liaison in those meetings).

Garrett and Washington counties align with Carroll in this regard, Burke said.

“The law doesn’t say we shall appoint someone to be on that board, it says we may, for one,” Bouchat said. “And the fact that so many other jurisdictions don’t do it says something.”

Bouchat asked his colleagues for their feedback, and fellow commissioner Stephen Wantz spoke up.

“I’m not sure what you’re attempting to do here,” Wantz said. “I don’t mind being a county that does something that no one else does, that’s refreshing. I’m challenged by the fact that ...it appears as if we’re fixing something that’s not broken.”

Wantz, R-District 1, said there has been county commissioner representation on both boards for years. Wantz said while the ex-officio member doesn’t get to vote, it’s important to have someone from their group sitting in for reference purposes.

“I don’t get why all of a sudden now we seem to be wanting to infuse division, or attempting to try to build a weakness here,” Wantz said.

Bouchat said getting the proposed legislation to pass would not be impossible. He said he spoke with Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, who told him the proposals would be doable so long as they made their way to the state level.

“I just think that we as commissioners should step back at a higher level and not be engaged in either one of these boards,” Bouchat said, “and focus more on the administration ... of the actual departments.”

Each of Bouchat’s motions failed to gain a second, so they were not voted upon, but soon after Wantz thanked his fellow commissioner for making valid points during their discussion. Wantz said he’s interested in diving deeper into the board of education ex-officio position going forward.

“I just didn’t want you to think that you attempted to do something here that went on deaf ears, and I don’t think any of my colleagues thought that,” Wantz said. “I just don’t think the time right now was right for it.”

Bouchat thanked Wantz for his comments and said it’s good for the commissioners to have these discussions and debates in a public setting.

“It is up, ultimately, for the citizens to voice their opinion to us as how they feel and weigh on these issues,” Bouchat said. “And they are critical issues.”

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