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Blatchford: Commissioner form of government is archaic

It appears that, once again, a discussion of moving Carroll County’s governmental structure into the 20th Century (I know — this is the 21st) is in the offing. We should pay attention. I retired from my career of choice because I tired of trying to drag that institution into the current century. We have the same issue here in Carroll. Our current form of government is archaic.

Consider that the Maryland General Assembly authorized the commissioner form of county government in 1827. This form hasn’t substantially changed in the intervening years. For reference, the charter form of county government was authorized in 1915 (over 100 years ago), and Code Home Rule was authorized in 1966 (just like yesterday). Based upon the above, you decide which form might be the most relevant in today’s world — more to the point, in today’s Maryland.

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The column published on Jan. 19, authored by sitting Commissioner Eric Bouchat, prompted this letter. I pretty much agree with his conclusion without bringing in emotional issues as “patriotism” and “our Founding Fathers.” I view my stance as more practical in nature and I haven’t changed it since the last time the subject of potential modernization was being debated.

There are two very major reasons for moving away from our commissioners. First and foremost is the matter of local control for local government. Too many of the important decisions for our county are made in Annapolis by people from other counties. It is not unlikely that a person who votes on a Carroll County issue has never set foot inside our borders or even driven through. That type of governing is reminiscent of British control over the Colonies prior to the Revolution. This country was ruled by people who hadn’t a clue about local issues.

If that doesn’t inspire you, here’s a second reason. Simply put, Carroll is governed by people in Annapolis with political values and philosophies that differ widely from most of Carroll voters. Which group runs the state with a 2-to-1 voter advantage? Which group comprises the majority in Carroll? Carroll is under the thumb of the machine in charge of the General Assembly. Any questions? Sometimes living in Carroll is reminiscent of being on an island in a hostile sea.

Lastly, I’d mention that, currently, only six of Maryland’s 23 counties remain under the “thumb” of the General Assembly’s commissioner form of government. Seventeen counties — all desiring better self-determination — have seen the light.

Will Carroll be the last to see the light? As far as the choice between the other two alternatives, I have no recommendation. As a practical matter, I can’t see arguing for one over the other until it’s been established that a change is desired. Although, like Bouchat, I also majored in political science, it has been a few years. I will need additional study into charter or Code Home Rule.

Based upon personal observations since the subject was last debated, I am forced to conclude that most of the opposition to any change in the commissioner form of county government comes from those who support the majority in Annapolis. If Carroll County were “allowed” to govern itself, the state majority party will have lost significant control — at least for in the foreseeable future.

Rick Blatchford writes from Mount Airy.

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