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Blatchford: Transparent, unbiased process would mean more support for charter government

The future form of government for Carroll County has drawn significant interest of late. The recent spate of informational meetings, letters to the editor and a few columns serve as evidence. A June 28 column by Commissioner Eric Bouchat was the genesis for this effort.

Although Bouchat and I agree generally that charter is the preferred form, our reasons and perhaps our motivations are at variance. Personally, the charter is preferred because it essentially makes the county’s government as independent from the influence of the General Assembly’s (GA) machine as it can be.

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Carroll County has no need for the GA to be looking over the shoulders of the people we elect to run the county. Having observed and lived with decisions made by the GA for 50 years, they’ve typically done little to indicate competence superior to that of our commissioners. There aren’t that many wizards in the capitol building.

For those who may feel that our county commissioners require GA supervision, it is suggested that you consider electing people that you find more competent — no slight intended to current or past commissioners. Unimportant to me is which form the charter would take — an executive and council or only a county council with no executive. Either provides the path toward freedom from Annapolis. Conversely, Bouchat prefers an executive, but more on that later.

After reading Bouchat’s column and having traded emails with him prior to and after that column, I can best describe my reaction as uncomfortable without being able to specifically state why. He has clearly stated that he feels the current form of commissioner government is “unconstitutional.” This despite the fact Maryland has authorized it since 1827, that it has been Carroll’s form of government forever and some other counties still use it. One would think that if the commissioner form actually was unconstitutional, someone would have corrected it previously.

Bouchat states that the commissioner form violates the principle of separation of powers. He wrote, “I know first-hand because I am a commissioner.” I would humbly submit that having an executive, while desirable for separation of powers, is not legally required at the local level. In addition to the long-standing commissioner form of government, there is another form of local government that offers no executive. Generally found in city/town government, it’s called council and manager. The council (with no exec) administers much like our commissioners do and they hire a city manager to handle day-to-day activities. Unconstitutional? I think not.

Bouchat wrote, “I ask myself why are individuals so vehemently visceral in opposition to citizens having more control and autonomy over their county government? Why don’t they trust their fellow conservative brethren in writing a local constitution…”?

Well, Mr. Commissioner, I have your answer. The politicians are in charge. Conservative or not, left or right, Democrat or Republican, politicians have acquired a well-deserved reputation — from the national level all the way down to the local town level. It is presumed that politicians will choose the members of a charter commission. Politicians are known to have biases which will almost assuredly bleed into the selection process. This could easily translate into a drafting commission with similar biases and/or subject to the influence of those who selected them. Almost certainly the voters would support a charter IF they could be assured that the process would be totally transparent and performed without prejudice. And that, sir, is the rub.

Along this line, it was noticed early on that virtually nothing was being said about a charter form without an executive. Clearly a bias for the executive was perceived by this writer. While pondering the possible reason for the perceived bias, a thought occurred that is worth sharing. Could Commissioner Bouchat be leaning hard for the executive form of charter because he has his sights set on that position? Just askin’.

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