On June 27, county Commissioner Eric Bouchat moderated a forum on charter government. The panel, composed of Del. Susan Krebs, Commissioner Dennis Frazier and New Windsor fire company Chief Tom Coe, expressed why Carroll County should consider transitioning from a commissioner form of government to charter.
The panelists stated several times that no two charters are the same. If Carroll decides to consider the idea of charter government, a unique charter, or constitution, will be written for our county. At that point, the voters will be able to decide whether we like the charter written for us or whether to toss it in the trash like leftover apple pie from last week’s Fourth of July picnic.
At the forum, guests were allowed to submit questions for the panelists to answer. It came as no surprise that a few anti-charter rabble-rousers submitted “gotcha” question after “gotcha” question. These individuals did not come to the meeting to be informed, but to confront the panelists with straw arguments and to bully them into taking ridiculous pledges on the spot. One disgruntled forum attendee tried to argue that charter government creates socialist programs. When Commissioner Frazier asked if trash collection, water and sewer, police and fire, and education are socialist programs, the attendee screamed, “Yes!”
Commissioner Bouchat recently penned a column in this very paper wherein he compared the fight for charter government in Carroll to our founding fathers’ fight for independence. Not all colonists were freedom-seeking patriots during the American Revolution. A third of all colonists, known as Loyalists, remained faithful to the British Crown and believed that the American colonies would be weak without Britain. We now know that the Loyalists were wrong and that America was able to survive and thrive without being under the control of an English monarch and Parliament. Opponents of charter, like Loyalists during the fight for independence from Britain, believe that life under the control of an outside power — namely, the Maryland General Assembly — is preferable to self-governance.
In Carroll County, commissioner government “Loyalists” repeat and rehash the same myths about charter government. It’s time to put these fables to the test.
Why do we need charter government to pass local ordinances when local legislation is passed in Annapolis? Foes of charter offer the myth that local legislation always receives “local courtesy” in the General Assembly, despite the Democrat majority. This myth is partly true. Yes, the majority of local legislation that affects only Carroll County is approved each legislative session. However, as panelist Coe pointed out at the forum, Carroll’s current process creates extraordinary levels of bureaucracy. Coe referenced last year’s enabling legislation that provides the county with the option to exercise authority over the county’s volunteer fire services. Although this bill would ultimately pass in Annapolis, this legislation simply allowed our county commissioners to entertain the idea of exercising authority. By adopting charter, the outrageous number of hoops that Carroll County is forced to jump through to even consider changes to our own local government would decrease. Consider this myth partially confirmed and partially busted.
Under a charter providing for a county executive, he or she is elected to execute the laws and provide direction and administrative oversight of all county departments and agencies. Some “Loyalists” have recently tried to convince the general public that Carroll County already has an executive, the elected sheriff. According to the Maryland Sheriff’s Association, “the duties of the sheriff fall into three main categories; law enforcement, court duties, and civil process and correctional facility administration.” A recent Times contributor wrote that our sheriff “enforces the law and [that] the sheriff is a constitutional office.” It is true that Article IV, Section 44 of Maryland’s Constitution mandates that each county have an elected sheriff. However, the same Constitution makes it clear that a county executive is the chief executive officer of each county. Carroll’s sheriff has many important responsibilities, but serving as the county’s chief executive officer is not one of them. Opponents of charter are 100% wrong when they claim that a separate executive branch already exists under our commissioner form of government. Consider this myth busted.
Finally, “Loyalists” are quick to declare that if Carroll adopts charter, our county will become just like Frederick, the most recent county to make the jump into charter. In December 2010, all five Frederick County commissioners were Republicans when they voted to move forward with creating a charter-writing committee. The vote was 4-0, with one pro-charter commissioner absent. Fast-forward to today, Frederick has a Democrat county executive and four out of seven of their county council members are Democrats. It is interesting that many of these former Republican commissioners were head over heels for charter originally, but only after Democrats took control of Frederick County government did they become outspoken opponents of charter.
Some spread the myth that Carroll’s all-Republican Board of County Commissioners will face the same fate if charter is enacted. According to the Maryland Board of Elections, in 2010, there were 136,477 registered voters in Frederick, with 5,317 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats. In 2014, there were 150,895 registered voters, with 6,724 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats. In 2018, there were 172,907 registered voters, with 2,343 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats. Whether charter passed or not, the voting registration numbers in Frederick had been shifting for years, with the Republican registration majority shrinking drastically. This is hardly the case in Carroll County, where in 2018, out of 120,916 registered voters, there were 62,908 registered Republicans compared to 32,198 registered Democrats — almost a two-to-one difference. If Carroll were to adopt charter, Republicans should not fear that Democrats will suddenly take over county government. The numbers tell a different story. Consider this myth busted.
To watch the full forum, go to YouTube and search “Charter Government Questions and Answers,” or visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AETrzW2-sF8.
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Commissioner Bouchat recently told me, “Carroll County is mature and responsible enough to declare its independence and its citizens are intelligent enough to write their own county constitution.” He added, “I have complete faith in my fellow citizens, while the opposition does not want the people to rule themselves.” Carroll residents should try to glean facts regarding charter government and not fall prey to unproven myths.