Editorial: Time for Carroll government to 'grow up,' switch to charter

Carroll County Commissioner Christopher Eric Bouchat introduces himself to Carroll County District 4.

With the new Board of County Commissioners seated earlier this month, it won’t be long before the matter of switching to a charter form of government is raised at a public meeting. It’s possible the discussion, even an informal one, could come up at today’s meeting between the county commissioners and Carroll’s delegation to Annapolis.

New Commissioner Eric Bouchat, a Republican representing District 4, was throughout his campaign a proponent of moving to a charter form of government and addressed the matter during his Sunday “Commissioners’ Report” on local radio station WTTR now that he’s been elected to office.


Bouchat correctly stated that the current commissioner form of government is a holdover from British Colonial rule, and that it is not only outdated, but also inefficient. Bouchat pointed to the U.S. Constitution’s primary tenet that there must be a separation of executive and legislative authority in government.

“Those who legislate should not execute [the law], and those who execute should not legislate,” he said.

Because of this, commissioner form of government relies on the General Assembly to act as legislators. The commissioners may develop the ideas for local law, but it requires an affirmative majority vote by the entire General Assembly to have it passed. More often than not, because of what is known as “local courtesy,” so long as the delegation favors the bill and it only affects a single jurisdiction, the rest of the Assembly will vote in concert with local representation.

However, that means that there is only a finite amount of time — the 90-day session — during which Carroll legislation can be passed. And as the legislative map is presently drawn, it also means legislators who are primarily elected by voters in Frederick and Howard counties have a say on legislation that only affects Carroll. (Ironically, because Frederick and Howard are charter governments, those legislators have no say in their home counties.)

There is also the reality that there is really no single person who is representative of all of Carroll’s voters.

Under a charter government, voters would still have a vote for their district representative on a county council, which would serve as the legislative branch of government, while also casting a second vote for a county executive, who would represent the county at-large.

When it comes to economic development, there is no executive who can serve as a primary point of contact. People often say they want government to be run like a business, but how many businesses don’t have a chief executive officer as well as a board of directors?

In pointing out the inefficiencies of commissioner government, Bouchat noted that the numerous administrators and department heads in Carroll essentially answer to five different bosses, not all of whom are in agreement about how things should be done. Think about how frustrating that would be at your own place of employment.

Commissioners Dennis Frazier and Richard Weaver have expressed support for a shift to charter government. Along with Bouchat, they have the majority of votes necessary to establish and appoint members to a committee to study and draft a charter for Carroll, the first step in any potential change.

Any charter that is developed would have to be put to a vote by county residents. If the commissioners act sooner than later, it could get on the 2020 ballot and, if supported by voters, they could be choosing Carroll’s first county executive in four years, when the current Board of County Commissioners’ terms expire.

In his radio address, Bouchat compared the commissioner form of government to an adult child who is, by definition independent, but is living in Mom and Dad’s basement. “You are an adult, but not out on your own.” It’s an excellent, relatable metaphor.

It’s far past time for Carroll County government to grow up and become independent with charter government.