Gordon: Charter government would come down to what the document says

Every third Monday in February, our country celebrates President’s Day, which honors two great notables in U.S. history. The day was originally formed to mark George Washington’s birthday; however, it is currently viewed as honoring both Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Both of these leaders are revered in our history for their leadership and their many accomplishments — including looking out for their fellow citizens instead of the status quo.

It is remarkable how a word with seven letters can evoke strong emotions in recent conversations in our county. This word causes responses and ideas from people both for and against this potential change of government. The word that causes these feelings is “charter.” The topic of charter government has once again become a heated issue for some on both sides regarding moving from the current commissioner form of government. The idea is not a new one by any stretch, and it has been attempted numerous times and has failed consistently.


On one side of the issue there is the opinion that moving to charter government will increase the cost and size of government and place the burden of higher taxes and fees on the shoulders of the public. Some believe that charter government would create additional layers of government, add potential wage increases for current employees while expanding roles and creating bigger government. Also, the idea of a county executive is of concern to some as they see an individual without checks and balances who would allow he or she to run the county government in any fashion without the current controls currently in place.

Those in favor of charter see a positive of the county moving away from the entanglements of the state and allowing greater freedom. This could allow for increased rule from within the borders of the county with the county executive viewed as a CEO type position. Some also see it as a solution and inclusion at the main table for Carroll County’s leadership with surrounding county leaders instead of sitting at the “kiddie table.” Our county commissioners ,while having discussed the possibility of charter, have decided to study it and other forms of government currently before moving forward with a possible charter committee. One very significant question for any form of government, be it commissioner or charter, is how it is written, and as the old adage goes the devil is in the details.

Some may have missed the details previously when the county went from three commissioners at-large to five by district in the 2010 election. While the idea was marketed at the time to give better representation to the citizens some will argue it did just the opposite. By going to five by district it gave smaller areas for our elected officials to represent and could have been seen as a positive since it allowed for focused representation. Some in the public have mentioned that they didn’t understand what they were voting for at the time. Others see this limited scope for electing officials in the county as resulting in their being a disenfranchised voter.

By definition disenfranchisement of voters “is the revocation of the right of suffrage (the right to vote) of a person or group of people, or through practices, prevention of a person exercising the right to vote. Disfranchisement is also termed to the revocation of power or control of a particular individual, community or being; that is to deprive of a franchise, of a legal right, of some privilege or inherent immunity. Disfranchisement maybe accomplished explicitly by law or implicitly through requirements applied in a discriminatory fashion.”

To put it in to more common terms, as a voter in one of the five districts in Carroll County some feel that voters are disenfranchised from direct input from the commissioners who serve them in the other four districts. County residents have zero effect on elected representatives outside of their district, since they cannot vote for them. A resident in District 5 (Sykesville/Eldersburg) told me of an example where they contacted another county commissioner with concerns about the Freedom Plan in their area and were told by that commissioner it was not within his district and he did not discuss it with them. In another example, a citizen asked to speak to several commissioners about an issue outside his district and was told that staff could not schedule appointments with other commissioners as it was a home district issue. This current goat rope scenario does not effectively serve the citizens that our commissioners represent. These two examples make one ask, do we truly have county commissioners or district commissioners?

Our five county commissioners decide on every significant issue that affects you and your family from property taxes, zoning, funding education, economic development in our county. Issues that could be politically sensitive to one district could have no political significance to a representative in one of the other four districts. To better understand this a voter only needs to look at the long list of district specific projects that are proposed versus the list of countywide proposals. Some residents would prefer a return for Carroll residents voting at large instead of by district due to the current limited accountability.

With everything being said for or against charter government it comes down to the document itself. No two charters are identical, nor are the communities they serve. In the end, before residents vote for a document that would affect so many facets of the community, we would need a charter that is shaped by the people of Carroll County. For those who are undecided on charter government, there is one thing that is clear with our form of government — any decision should be made by the people.

Tom Gordon writes from Westminster.