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Carroll County Commissioner Eric Bouchat bows out as ex-officio member of Planning and Zoning Commission

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners is scheduled to spend time during Thursday morning’s open session to discuss an agenda item regarding Commissioner Eric Bouchat’s decision to recuse himself as ex-officio member of the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as his request to eliminate that position from the Board of Education.

Bouchat, a Republican who represents District 4, assumed the ex-officio role with planning and zoning from fellow commissioner Ed Rothstein, who left that position Tuesday. Moments after Rothstein spoke during the virtual planning meeting, Bouchat read aloud a letter he submitted that detailed his decision.

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Bouchat said he studied the memorandum regarding commissioners serving on the planning and zoning commission supplied to him by the county attorney, which lays out the duties and responsibilities of the position.

“I have never seen a more incestuous and convoluted structure of public responsibility laden with the potential for corruption and abuse in my life,” Bouchat read from his letter. “It defies my moral principles and political science intellect concerning the most scared of constitutional tenets, separation of power to prevent abuse of public trust. As a member of the county’s governing body, I can not in good [conscience] create zoning ordinances, preside over their enforcement alongside members the governing body has appointed, and cast votes that would potentially be reviewed in appeal by individuals the [governing] body has also appointed.”

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Bouchat told the planning and zoning commission members he’d only be watching the meetings from now on, and will remain silent and abstain from any motions, seconds, and votes. Cynthia L. Cheatwood, P&Z chair, thanked both commissioners for their input and proceeded with the meeting’s agenda.

Bouchat recently applied through the Carroll County Republican Central Committee to replace outgoing Del. Warren Miller, but the position was eventually filled by Del. Reid Novotny.

He said in a Wednesday email to the Times that he sought the state delegate position in hopes that his reform efforts could be successful, after having advocated for a charter form of government in Carroll. (The proposal to establish a charter writing committee was voted down by the county commissioners in November).

Bouchat then informed his fellow commissioners that he’d serve on the Board of Education and Planning and Zoning Commission in an ex-officio capacity, he said. Bouchat said he prepared for those roles by studying legal briefing documents as requested by the county attorney’s office.

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“In review of documents and experience in service, I determined commissioners serving on said boards create questions of ethics, integrity, conflict of interest and violation of separation of power principles inherent in the U.S. Constitution I am sworn to uphold via oath of office,” Bouchat said in his email. “Therefore, I decided it would be an obligation to my constituents to set forth three Commissioner reform proposals that would elevate integrity, ethics, transparency and accountability.”

Bouchat said via email he wants to restrict commissioners from serving on the school board, restrict commissioners from serving on the P&Z commission, and require all items placed on the county commissioners’ open session agenda to have a commissioner sponsorship.

The county attorney is expected to discuss during Thursday’s meeting that the board could propose legislation that would remove county commissioners from ex-officio positions on the Board of Education and the Planning and Zoning Commission. The topic has been included on the meeting’s agenda that is posted on the Carroll County government website.

Rothstein, who is president of the board of commissioners, said he has served on multiple boards and commissions as an ex-officio member since becoming a commissioner two years ago. Rothstein said those experiences have been rewarding, and have helped him understand and gain a better pulse of the community.

“It may not be in line with Commissioner Bouchat’s thoughts and ideas, and we will discuss that [Thursday],” Rothstein said. “It is essential to have planning on the forefront. You cannot execute your resources unless you have a well thought-out plan. The only way you can have a well thought-out plan is by establishing these boards and commissions ... and our ability to have a strong relationship, and a candid, open relationship, is critical to success.”

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