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Editorial: Charter government discussion welcome

From 1968 to 1998, there were six times voters rejected the option of changing Carroll County from a commissioners form of government to a charter government. Two decades after the last vote, Carroll residents might get another opportunity to determine whether it's time to make a switch.

Earlier this week, Commissioner Doug Howard requested that the Board of Commissioners be briefed by staff on how such a change could occur. It's the first step in a somewhat lengthy process, which involves forming a committee to study and draft a charter for the county, then putting the charter to referendum for Carroll's voters.

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If the commissioners decide to move forward, it's likely a referendum wouldn't appear on the ballot until the 2018 gubernatorial election, coinciding with the end of the current commissioners' terms. If passed, it probably wouldn't be until the 2022 elections that the changes would be implemented.

The discussion is a welcome one, however, and a switch could ultimately benefit the county, giving it more local control. We also think that the code home rule form of government, brought up by Commissioner Richard Rothschild, warrants some discussion, too.

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Both styles would give officials at the county level the ability to pass local legislation without having state legislators get the changes approved by the Maryland General Assembly, something that has become somewhat more difficult after the state's legislative districts were redrawn in 2012.

Currently, there are 11 individuals who represent Carroll in Annapolis — three senators and eight delegates. However, of them, only four call Carroll home and represent solely the county's interests. The others represent Frederick or Howard counties, with only a sliver of Carroll making up their district.

Getting all 16 combined members of the delegation and county commissioners together to discuss legislation that local officials would like to propose, as well as getting the seven who represent other counties on the same page — combined with the limited window of the 90-day legislative session — can make it complicated to get laws passed. And it could lead to frustration when they don't.

Under a charter or home code rule of government, it doesn't have to be that way.

Opponents will argue that having a county executive and a county council, as is typical with charter governments, will increase both the size and cost of government. But that's not necessarily the case, and the pay scales and makeup of the local government would be determined by the written charter. At least two charter governments in Maryland — Dorchester and Talbot counties on the Eastern Shore — have a five-member county council with legislative powers, identifying one as the president of the council with executive powers.

But those are choices to be debated down the road, if we get that far. For now, we're glad to know the discussions will be had. Those conversations should give some indication of whether residents' attitudes toward the type of local government have shifted in the past 18 years, and whether change is viable.

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