The county commissioners hosted an educational forum June 11 on the three types of government available to Maryland counties — commission, code home rule and charter. Experts spoke about each and then fielded questions from the 70 or so in attendance.
This week, Carroll countians have the opportunity to educate themselves further on charter government. It’s an opportunity that should be taken advantage of as this will not be the last time charter comes up residents should learn all they can about it.
County Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, is hosting what is being billed as a “Community Question & Answer session” regarding the potential effects of charter government at 7 p.m. on Thursday, at the County Office Building in Westminster. According to a news release from the county, Bouchat invites all interested residents to join him by attending this meeting to ask questions of a panel of local leaders — District 5 Del. Susan Krebs, Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and Carroll County Public Safety Representative and Chief of the New Windsor Fire Company Tom Coe. “Please bring all your questions,” Bouchat is quoted as saying in the release, which notes that citizens will be asked to fill out cards with questions for the panel.
Clearly, many already have their minds made up. Carroll County’s Republican Central Committee said in a news release last week that it “supports our current form of five commissioner government, and does not support changing our form of government at this time.”
Meanwhile, Bouchat has been upfront about his desire to see Carroll move away from commissioners to charter. He made it one of the key points of his successful campaign for commissioner in 2018. Perhaps it helped push him over the top. He and Frazier initiated a public hearing on charter in January.
The main reason cited by proponents of moving away from the commission form is for the county to gain the ability to pass legislation that affects Carroll without needed to go through the Democratic-majority General Assembly in Annapolis to do so. (Local courtesy generally makes this a formality, but that is not always the case.) Bouchat also believes the current form is unconstitutional because it doesn’t separate legislative and executive authority.
Obviously, the idea of changing the form of government in Carroll County is not a new one. It’s been voted down six times, most recently in 1998. Opponents point to that and to the fact that Carroll countians seem to be pretty happy with their way of life under commission government. They also say it will be more expensive with a county executive making a significant salary and that it will lead to tax increases. (Charter does not have to have a county executive. It can be written any way the charter committee chooses to write it. But in most cases a county executive is installed.)
At the June 11 educational forum, Robert McCord, secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning who spent 16 years as an attorney for Harford County, did a good job describing charter government as it exists in that county. We expect Thursday’s panelists will speak more broadly about charter and its myriad forms and possibilities.
Clearly, the panelists will be pointing out the merits of this form of government. Ideally, this would be a debate, with any drawbacks pointed out, as well, but the release stated that this is a purely question and answer session, with no public comment session. That’s why the questions will be important.
It is quite possible the commissioners will be talking about charter in open session soon, potentially even forming a committee to write a charter with an eye toward putting it on the 2020 ballot. Whether for or against charter — or, especially, if undecided — we encourage Carroll countians to turn out for the Q&A on Thursday. And to come armed with questions.