Carroll County Commissioner Eric Bouchat proposed several amendments to the county’s budget preparation process and the commissioner’s organizational structure, one which would replace the county administrator position with two chief of staff positions.
At Thursday’s meeting, Bouchat, a Republican representing District 4, said as a commissioner it’s easy to get “kind of cushiony” with the county administrators doing so much for them.
“I don’t think citizens out there are comfortable with the amount of authority we’ve relinquished over to our administrators,” he said. “We may need to re-examine how we’ve been conducting business … . Ultimately, at the end of the day, we have a constitutional authority that our constituents want us to fulfill.”
With the existing organization of the county government, commissioners have sole authority but all of the departments communicate through the county administrator, Bouchat stated, claiming their constituents view the administrator as an unelected county executive.
“I want more direct contact with all of those departments,” Bouchat said.
The commissioner suggested replacing the county administrator position with a chief of staff for operations and a deputy chief of staff for services.
“It’s unfair to have so much information to go through one person,” he said, noting several local laws which he said “back up” his proposals.
According to the Code of Public Law of Carroll County, commissioners shall establish an orderly procedure for the budget and shall designate a county employee as budget officer to assist in preparation and administration of it.
“It is purely discretion how we structure this organization,” Bouchat said. He reminded the board that Carroll County had a chief of staff previously, until seven years ago when the switch was made to administrator.
He said the existing county administrator does not meet certified public accountant requirements to hold the position and suggested it be resolved and restructured.
Roberta Windham has been the county administrator since 2015, when she was appointed to the post previously held by Steve Powell under the title of chief of staff. Prior to that, she was the county’s media liaison for four years. Before her employment with county government, Windham managed her own legal practice, handling estates and trust law.
As administrator, Windham ensures the board of commissioners’ directives are carried through and moved forward, whereas Powell as chief of staff played a large part in issuing directives to staff, the Carroll County Times reported in 2015.
“I’ll say very good things about her ability and competence but it does not properly fit with the law or the political science of commissioner government,” Bouchat said. “Sixty percent of the budget process unfolds outside of us … We need to be more involved on the front end.”
Bouchat then made five motions:
- To require all items on the agenda to be sponsored by a commissioner, who would be briefed on that item prior to the weekly meeting;
- to divide up the county departments amongst commissioners, who would then work with them in formulating their budget requests;
- to have commissioners appear before advisory boards and commissions for briefings and guidance only but not sit on those boards;
- to require newly elected officials to meet with managerial staff at all departments and immediately begin working on the budget;
- and to adopt a new organizational structure which would replace the county administrator position with two chief of staff positions, allowing for more direct contact between the board and the departments.
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All five motions failed after not receiving the second from another commissioner required to be put up for a vote.
During the public comment period of the meeting, Catherine Adelaide, a member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, said she “fully supports” Bouchat’s proposal.
“I am absolutely shocked beyond any words he did not get a second from any one of you,” she said. “He is 100% on everything he said.”
Under Bouchat’s proposed organizational structure “the commissioners will have the authority that they once gave away.”
Commissioner President Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said on Friday he didn’t second Bouchat’s motions because he believes “it is the consensus of the board” they are doing extremely well, and have been successful in working with department directors.
“I have 100% faith and trust in the work of our chief administrator does in supporting the decisions of the commissioners,” he said. “She is in no way an elected official and is not treated as one.”
Rothstein said he “could not ask for a better structure” of county government, adding Bouchat was “trying to come up with solutions where there were no problems.”