The Board of Commissioners voted to lift the state of emergency in Carroll County on June 27, more than three months after it was declared by the commissioners, who debated during their Thursday meeting whether to lift it sooner and what message lifting it will send.
County staff who have been facing the pandemic recommended Carroll remain under a state of emergency, suggesting changing its status could cause the public to perceive that the threat of COVID-19 is over.
“This is not a blizzard, this is not a tornado ... It’s not the traditional type of disaster that we deal with," said Valerie Hawkins, emergency management manager. "I do have significant concerns that if the state of emergency goes away that the message that is being sent by the board and the county is that, ‘OK, we can step down, we’re good.’”
Commissioners Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, and Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, were in favor of allowing the state of emergency to expire June 13, noting Maryland is still operating under a state of emergency.
They voted in favor of a compromise suggested by Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, to end the state of emergency two weeks later, on June 27. Commissioners Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, and Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, were opposed.
One aspect of the state of emergency is that it allows the president of the Board of Commissioners to streamline decision making without having to convene the entire board.
Bouchat suggested the county has not been operating as a commissioner form of government since the state of emergency started, calling Wantz, who is president, a “de facto county executive," adding he meant no offense. Typically, county executives are leaders of jurisdictions that operate under the charter form of government.
“You’ve thrown me under the bus several times in the last week or so," Wantz said to Bouchat. "I have done nothing at all to have anybody give a perception that I’m the county executive. Every decision that I’ve made I’ve ran through all four of you. So for you to say that offends me greatly, and I don’t like that.”
Rothstein defended Wantz, saying he did not feel as though Wantz was making decisions without the input of the other commissioners.
Wantz read a joint statement from the departments of public safety and emergency management that supported continuing the state of emergency.
When the county is under a state of emergency, Hawkins said it allows county agencies to coordinate with one another at a higher level than normal. She said while federal financial assistance related to the pandemic does not hinge upon whether a county has declared a state of emergency, the situation could change.
“I hate to make a decision on something that might happen in the future," Frazier said. “Getting rid of this state of emergency doesn’t harm the county at all.”
Ed Singer, county health officer, was also against ending the state of emergency.
“It doesn’t have a significant impact on us operationally, but I am concerned about the message that we’d be sending to the community at this point," he said.
Earlier in the meeting, when the commissioners discussed their support of Gov. Larry Hogan’s latest easing of restrictions across the state, Singer said he predicts a spike in cases.
“We’re probably going to see somewhat of a spike as we open things back up," Singer said.
He urged residents to continue wearing masks and distancing themselves from others.
“We just don’t want to lose all of those gains that we’ve made," Singer said.
Bouchat and Frazier pushed for returning to normalcy.
“The faster we can get back to getting normalcy in our lives and getting people back to work, I think the better off we are, and lifting this local state of emergency would be an element in getting to that goal," Bouchat said.
Frazier questioned the point of having a state of emergency if ending it does not affect how the county addresses the pandemic.
Hawkins and Singer recommended that if the state of emergency is ended that the county remind the public that health and safety guidelines still need to be followed.
Wantz and Rothstein supported continuing the state of emergency.
Wantz suggested being under such a declaration could strengthen a potential future request for financial relief, and said he would not want the lifting of the state of emergency to cause the public to fall under a false sense of complacency during the continuing pandemic.