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Our View: Commissioner’s motions failed, effort to get points across did not | COMMENTARY

Carroll County Commissioner Eric Bouchat may not be getting a lot of W’s, but he is getting his points across in what he looks at as a quest to educate constituents and colleagues alike about political science.

Bent on disruption since he was elected, Bouchat said in 2019 that one of his main goals in running for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners was to see the county’s form of government change from commission to charter, saying the present form goes against constitutional principles. He and Commissioner Dennis Frazier were in favor of forming a charter writing committee last fall, but that effort was voted down, 3-2.

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More recently, Bouchat has taken exception to the established practice of having one of the commissioners represent the board as an ex-officio member of the Carroll County Board of Education and the county’s Planning & Zoning Commission.

“In review of documents and experience in service, I determined commissioners serving on said boards create questions of ethics, integrity, conflict of interest and violation of separation of power principles inherent in the U.S. Constitution I am sworn to uphold via oath of office,” Bouchat told us Wednesday. “Therefore, I decided it would be an obligation to my constituents to set forth three Commissioner reform proposals that would elevate integrity, ethics, transparency and accountability.”

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Bouchat said he wanted to restrict commissioners from serving on the school board, restrict commissioners from serving on the P&Z commission, and require all items placed on the county commissioners’ open session agenda to have a commissioner sponsorship.

In an email to the county attorney as well as to some school board members and Superintendent Steve Lockard, Bouchat wrote that “an empty chair will accomplish the same as a filled chair by a commissioner.”

He was even more critical about serving as an ex-officio member of the P&Z, reading a statement before Tuesday’s zoning meeting.

“I have never seen a more incestuous and convoluted structure of public responsibility laden with the potential for corruption and abuse in my life,” Bouchat read. “It defies my moral principles and political science intellect concerning the most scared of constitutional tenets, separation of power to prevent abuse of public trust. As a member of the county’s governing body, I can not in good [conscience] create zoning ordinances, preside over their enforcement alongside members the governing body has appointed, and cast votes that would potentially be reviewed in appeal by individuals the [governing] body has also appointed.”

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Bouchat got even less support for his efforts at eliminating the ex-officio positions than he did for charter. Neither of his motions gained a second and weren’t voted upon during Thursday’s commissioners meeting.

But, at the least, he did get his points across, seemingly coming close to convincing Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1. At one point, Wantz said he didn’t understand the need for change, that “it appears as if we’re fixing something that’s not broken.” By meeting’s end, however, Wantz said, “I will say, Eric, you brought up some valid points. ... I am open to hearing more about the ex-officio on the Board of Ed.”

Perhaps this board of commissioners will revisit some of Bouchat’s proposals. Perhaps getting these ideas out in the open will encourage future boards or the public to seek change. While Bouchat may not have accomplished what he set out to, he did accomplish something.

“I think it’s very important for us to have these discussions, debates in front of the public,” Bouchat said. “It is up, ultimately, for the citizens to voice their opinion to us as how they feel and weigh on these issues. And they are critical issues.”

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