One day after the Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to hold off on formal discussions about charter government for a year, Commissioner Eric Bouchat described a switch to that form of government as his “objective” and told the Times he would not run for re-election.
Bouchat also pushed back against critics questioning his motives behind the effort. After an opponent of charter government accused him of having his sights set on the county executive seat if the form of government were to be implemented, Bouchat called the claim “complete absurdity” — not only does he not want to be county executive, he said, he also doesn’t plan to run for county commissioner again.
“I ran to eliminate this position, and that’s my objective," Bouchat, R-District 4, said of his current position of commissioner. “I have no intention of running for county commissioner again once this term is done.”
In recent months, charter government has been the subject of much debate in Carroll. To get things moving in that direction, commissioners would need to vote to form a board that would then have a maximum of 18 months to write a charter.
[ Carroll County commissioners put charter government discussion on hold, leaving issue off 2020 ballot ]
If local residents don’t like commissioners’ appointments, they can protest them by picking their own options and filing a petition with 2,000 signatures from registered voters within 60 days of their decision.
If there were a challenge to the commissioners’ picks, a special election might have been needed in order to determine who would be on the charter writing commission. But that petition processing and special election would carry a cost — at the county commissioners’ meeting Thursday, Election Director Katherine Berry said it would cost about $400,000.
“So for people who say they’re for saving the county money and being fiscally conservative, it defies logic why they’d want to cause extra burden upon the county," Bouchat told the Times Friday. "They’re just being obstinate, and they’re being very close-minded about it.”
He anticipates the opposition would “throw a wrench in it” by filing a petition and calling for a special election, which he finds “quite odd.”
“If individuals have grievances about the potential charter, they shouldn’t oppose it, they should be involved in the process of writing it,” Bouchat said. “At this point, it makes no sense to be opposed to something that does not exist.”
Bruce Holstein — a member of the Carroll Taxpayers Coalition, a political action committee — previously shared the group’s opposition to charter government at an educational event in June, promising the group will fight back if the commissioners pursue the change.
[ Carroll County commissioners examine charter government pros and cons ]
On Friday, he doubled down on that promise, telling the Times that the group would spend the next year preparing for “the worst” result — that the commissioners would vote to set up a charter-writing committee — and plan to force a special election.
“[Bouchat] can’t blame us for that; he’s pushing the buttons, not us," Holstein said. “We’re responding. We’re not leading the charge, saying ‘We want you to spend $400,000.’ ”
In Holstein’s view, the issue centers on a few factors: a desire from proponents to create a “high-paying, powerful government job that we don’t need" — county executive — but that politicians want to run for; and concerns about lesser government transparency and money.
He and other residents don’t want to pay for a county executive, or other government positions that could potentially be added under a different form of government, Holstein said.
“And if we win, I promise you, the forces pushing charter, they’re not going to like what we write,” he said.
Holstein then alleged Bouchat was interested in charter government because he thought he would become the county executive.
Bouchat, who was elected as a commissioner in November 2018, denied the claim, explaining that his desire for charter is about bringing greater independence to Carroll’s government.
“Ultimately, this is about the citizens of Carroll County writing their own Carroll County constitution and declaring their independence from the General Assembly in Annapolis,” Bouchat said. “After all, we are a Republican-majority county, and the General Assembly that oversees us in Democrat-controlled.”
Carroll County Breaking News
Another motivation for the switch, Bouchat said, is to fulfill a “request from a dying mentor." Before former state Sen. Bob Kittleman died, he told Bouchat to bring charter government to Carroll County, according to Bouchat. Kittleman’s Senate district covered Howard and Carroll counties.
“It has nothing to do with me or my future," Bouchat said.
Although Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said that while he has “always been very respectful of the Kittleman family,” he’s focused on the form of government that Carroll residents want to have.
“It should be their push, if they truly want to see a change in government,” he said. “And I haven’t seen that push. I truly haven’t seen that.”
At the end of June, the Republican Central Committee came out in opposition to changing the county’s commissioner form of government. After the discussion delay, committee Chairman Dave Brauning said Friday they’re “glad to see what happens" with the extra time.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic Central Committee is in favor of continuing the process.
“I think change is needed," said Don West, the committee’s chairman. "What that change is gonna be is going to be, perhaps, determined over the next year or so.”