Dayhoff: Are historic changes in Carroll County government once again on the horizon?

Dayhoff: Are historic changes in Carroll County government once again on the horizon?
The cornerstone for the historic Carroll County Courthouse was laid June 13, 1838. It was constructed for $18,000. The building, pictured here from around 1905, served as the center of government until approximately 1960, through many changes in Carroll County government. (Babylon/Dayhoff family collection (photographer unknown))

The first Carroll County Board of Commissioners met on Friday, Jan. 27, 1837. On Dec. 4, 2018 the 61st Board of Carroll County Commissioners was sworn into office. This is the third board since the county went to a five-commissioner form of government with the election in November 2010.

The 61st board had barely been in office for weeks when, on Jan. 10, a news release from the commissioners indicated that there is an interest in changing our form of government again.


According to the release: “Today during Open Session, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted unanimously to invite other county jurisdictions and the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) to present information to the commissioners regarding transitioning from a commission form of government to either code home rule or charter government.”

This is not the first time folks in Carroll County have discussed changing our form of government. On Jan. 19, 1837 our county was formed to facilitate local citizens having local control over our destiny and quality of life.

From 1659 to 1837, the eastern half of Carroll County was governed by Baltimore County. From 1695, Prince George's County governed the western portion of Carroll County until December 10, 1748 when Frederick County was formed.

In fact, when the property, "Whites Level," which later become part of Westminster, was first purchased in 1733, it was actually part of Prince George's County.

As early as 1785, citizens petitioned Maryland Gov. William Paca to form "Paca County" from parts of Frederick and Baltimore counties.

In the Nov. 25, 1813 issue of the "Engine of Freedom," a newspaper in "The Forks,” later known as Uniontown, reported that a petition was being forwarded to the Maryland General Assembly to form "Union County," with the county seat in Uniontown. The effort failed

On March 2, 1833, a bill passed the General Assembly authorizing a vote on forming Carroll County in October 1833. The vote failed, 593 to 554; although it was later speculated that it failed because of voter irregularities in the Baltimore County portion.

Finally, a bill was introduced in 1835 and passed the General Assembly on March 25, 1836 to form Carroll County. This act was confirmed on Jan. 19, 1837. It only took about 50 years, but Carroll Countians had finally changed their government.

From 1837-51 the governing body of Carroll County was called the "Levy Court.” It consisted of nine individuals; one from each of the nine existing election districts in Carroll at the time. They were appointed by the governor of Maryland.

The Maryland Constitution of 1851 changed the "Levy Court" to the "Commissioners of Tax" and from 1853 to 1891, there were three at-large commissioners elected to two-year terms. From 1893 to 1921 the county elected one commissioner every other year for a six-year term.

In 1926, the county fully transitioned to electing three commissioners for four-year terms. In 1968, voters in Carroll County rejected both charter government and code home rule. In 1984, code home rule was defeated. In 1992, charter government was defeated at the ballot box.

In 1998, voters rejected a referendum to increase the Board of Commissioners to five at-large members and rejected a charter form of government. Undaunted, on Dec. 8, 1999, State Delegate Don Elliott brought the five-commissioner idea back up at a joint meeting of the county's state delegation and the commissioners. That initiative came after years of whispers of discontent in the hallways of power.

On Nov. 2, 2004, Carroll voters decided to approve a referendum to form a five-commissioner board elected by district rather than having three commissioners elected at large.

But wait, it took another four-years — until Monday, April 7, 2008, before the Maryland General Assembly approved Senate Bill 675 on Option 1 to draw the boundaries of the five commissioner districts among the eight municipalities, 36 election precincts and 14 election districts in the county.


In the interest of full disclosure I participated in a minor research role in 1967, in the initiative that failed in 1968, when the voters in Carroll County rejected both charter government and code home rule. In the late 1980s, I served as the secretary on the initial “Committee for Charter Government.” That effort also failed in 1992, when charter government was defeated at the ballot box. Since the mid-1960s, I have written and had published quite a number of articles and research papers on the history of Carroll County government. A portion of this research has been published before, most notably on Aug. 22, 2010 and Sept. 27, 2005.

If history is any indication of the future, chances are I will be writing about it again. Happy Groundhog Day.