The latest discussion regarding the possible change of Carroll County’s form of government — from commission to charter — ended Thursday when the Board of County Commissioners voted, 3-2, not to form a charter writing committee, advocates for charter coming up short as happened in 2019 and 2016 and each time charter has made it onto a Carroll ballot.
That’s a shame. There’s a reason more than half of the counties in Maryland have gone to charter, seizing more local control, and we would have liked to have seen what a charter committee made up of a diverse group of county citizens — five women and four men were proposed, five of them Republicans, two Democrats and two independents — might have come up with.
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, has called changing Carroll’s form of government one of the main reasons he ran for commissioner and stated his case during Thursday’s open session not only for why charter has merit for this county but why he believes passionately it is more in line with what the founders had in mind for American government, noting the need for checks and balances and the separation of the executive and legislative branches.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, was on board. He called it disingenuous for any of his colleagues to argue that charter will grow government and cost more money because that’s happening anyway.
“We have added to the future budget, just recently, and we have added to the size of government, just recently,” Frazier said. “Those two [arguments] don’t hold up.”
Frazier also made exactly the case we’ve always made, asking his colleagues, "How do you know you don’t want the charter, if you have not seen the charter?”
Perhaps this charter committee might’ve come up with something brilliant. Perhaps not. We’ll never know.
“It’s troubling to me that my colleagues don’t want to empower the public,” Bouchat said. “The citizens of this county should have the right to write their own constitution and they should have the right to elect someone countywide.”
The charter could have called for a county executive elected by the entire county while still having a county council elected by district. Or not. It could also have given Carroll officials broad legislative powers rather than the current need for help in Annapolis. It could have been a Declaration of Independence, of sorts, and it did not have to mean higher taxes and bigger government.
It’s all in the writing of the charter. Or, it would have been.
Commissioners Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, Richard Weaver, R-District 2 and Ed Rothstein, R-District 5 voted against the charter committee, though not necessarily against charter government itself.
“I’m not against writing a charter. That’s fine,” Rothstein said. “Let there be a petition from the community. Just stand up and write a charter.”
Wantz predicted that could happen.
“I think our discussion ... may indeed do what you’re looking for, [going] in this direction, Eric. And that is the people will reach out,” he said. “And we may indeed see this from the people based on this really good discussion.”
In fact, the last time charter made it onto a ballot in Carroll it was because of the grassroots efforts of a group known as Carroll County Citizens for Charter Government. Maybe another such group will organize and obtain the signatures required on a petition to force the commissioners to appoint a charter-writing committee.
Maybe. We would have rather seen the commissioners begin the process of forming such a committee on Thursday.