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Delegation votes against proposed change to method of filling commissioner vacancies

Carroll County's delegation to the General Assembly decided Thursday to reject a change to the way the county fills commissioner vacancies for a second year in a row.

The delegation, which includes Carroll's lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Delegates, voted unanimously against sponsoring the proposed legislation, which would have allowed county commissioners to fill vacant seats by choosing from a pool of three candidates provided by the central committee of the same party as the departing commissioner.

Dels. David Vogt and Barrie Ciliberti, both Republicans from District 4, were absent.

Under the existing process, vacancies on the Board of County Commissioners are filled by the governor, who chooses a replacement from a pool of nominees forwarded by the central committee of the party in which the vacancy occurs.

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Del. Trent Kittleman, R-District 9A, said she thinks the current system "works."

She pointed out that none of the four remaining commissioners in charge of filling a vacancy under the bill would represent the district they'd be replacing.

Del. Kathy Afzali, a Republican from District 4 who serves on the House's Election Law Subcommittee, said the change would "open a can of worms."

"There's probably not an elected official who doesn't have some beefs with their local central committees," she said, but "I can imagine it would be hard to convince the [Election Law] committee to change."

Afzali noted the shift would create a precedent in the state.

County commissioners proposed the legislation after researching how surrounding jurisdictions fill vacancies and discovering inconsistencies with Carroll's methods.

Board of Commissioners President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said in December that commissioners "just [want] to maintain some consistency jurisdictionally."

Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, said she appreciated the board's effort to come up with a solution, but would prefer to fill vacancies through a special election.

Last year, the delegation voted down an effort to allow such special elections.

Krebs, who was supportive of that bill, expressed concern about the effect that taking the duty of filling vacancies away from central committees would have on the bodies.

"It's a thankless job. You work very hard, and this is the one thing that you get to do," Del. April Rose, R-District 5, said at the time. Rose sat on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee from 2004 to 2010.

Thursday, Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, said special elections for every office would be his pick "in a perfect world, but it's difficult to do that."

"I think people need to be sure to pay attention to who they vote for in central committee elections," he added.

Delegation members also discussed salary increases for the county sheriff and state's attorney.

Proposals this year support raising the sheriff's salary from $90,000 to $106,000 over a four-year period and increasing the state's attorney's salary to 90 percent of the pay of a local district court judge instead of 80 percent, as is currently the law.

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The sheriff's raise would begin after the winner of the 2018 election is sworn in, and would increase by $4,000 a year for four years. The delegation voted to support the bill, but agreed to consider feedback from commissioners after they have a chance to review the proposed new salary's impact on their future budgets.

A raise for the state's attorney is intended to make the office more competitive, according to the Maryland State's Attorneys Association, which requested the change.

"We discovered our state's attorney makes about the same amount as the Kent County state's attorney, which is the smallest county in Maryland," Ready said.

Delegation members were supportive of an increase, but Kittleman asked to change a provision that would allow the state's attorney's salary to increase during their term if the salary for a district court judge goes up.

"It's the principle of the issue," she said. "I think if you're in elected office, you should not [see a salary] increase during the term."

DeLeonardo to withdraw bill to designate investigators peace officers

Carroll County State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo said Thursday afternoon that he plans to withdraw a bill that would've allowed him to designate investigators as peace officers, which would have given them arresting powers.

DeLeonardo testified before the Carroll County delegation Thursday morning in Annapolis, but contacted the Times to say he planned to withdraw the bill for this year, but not indefinitely, after some members of the delegation said they wanted more information before voting on it.

Talbot, Garrett and Dorchester counties already give their state's attorneys offices similar powers, according to DeLeonardo. Charles County and Baltimore City are requesting the powers this session. DeLeonardo said he'll watch the legislative process for Baltimore's similar request and may submit a proposal next year.

At the delegation meeting Thursday morning, DeLeonardo explained his investigators are all retired law enforcement officers who no longer have police powers but assist in the grand jury process, investigate white collar crime, interview witnesses and victims, and conduct internal investigations into other law enforcement agencies in the county, among other duties.

"When we get to a point where we've resolved an investigation, we actually don't have ability to charge and arrest a person unless we go find a person who is willing to help us fill out charging documents," DeLeonardo said. The change "really is just a way to try to have some independence on those cases."

Withdrawing the proposal won't affect his office as the investigators have functioned without the additional powers, DeLeonardo told the Times later Thursday. The proposal would have allowed them to have some independence from local police departments, which could come into play if the office ever had to investigate a Carroll law enforcement agency, he said.

Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, expressed that he wanted to discuss the proposal with Sheriff Jim DeWees before the delegation cast a vote on the proposal. "You have a separation of powers now," Hough said.

When reached for comment Thursday prior to DeLeonardo saying he would withdraw the bill, DeWees said he was supportive, "as long as it's used judiciously and appropriately."

"I have no issues with it. There are specific cases where it's appropriate."

Times staff Heather Mongilio and Wayne Carter contributed to this article.

Other bills

In other action, the delegation voted to sponsor:



Bond bills awarding $250,000 to Union Mills Homestead for repairs and $150,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster to help renovate the group's new building.

Legislation repealing outdated licensing requirements for music boxes and hucksters and peddlers.

Approval of $25 million in public facilities bonds for the county.

A bill changing the name of the county's local public transportation contractor as it pertains to the Local Government Tort Claims Act. County planning director and legislative liaison Phil Hager called it a "simple" change, though Ready said he had heard from a legal group concerned the change would diminish the county's liability.

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