One of the things that the new board of commissioners should look at when it takes office later this year is the amount of money spent by the current board on legal fees.
In just under four years, the commissioners have spent $178,454 for outside legal counsel. This is on top of the county attorney and staff that are already on the payroll to handle legal issues.
While instances will always arise when a board is wise to use outside counsel, the huge expenditure in taxpayer dollars is something that any frugal, conservative leader would question.
Public opinion was with the board when members voted to get out of a waste-to-energy contract with Frederick County. Doing that contributed to the legal bills. But the jury is split on whether it was an effective use of taxpayer dollars to push for the right to ignore our religious diversity and open their meetings only with Christian prayers. Governments everywhere have embraced opening their meetings with various prayers that recognize thee many different religions practiced in our country. Carroll's commissioners, by contrast, have fought hard to exclude every religion except their own personal preference.
The commissioners also fought a costly battle to keep their email lists secret, even after their own attorney advised them against it. Transparency has never been a hallmark of this board, which has been cited more than once by the Open Meetings Compliance Board for ignoring the law. As such, their stand for secrecy is not surprising. But given that they were advised against keeping the lists secret, and even after the state legislature decided not to enact a law that would have made email lists exempt from the public records law, this board continued on in its battle until a judge ultimately ruled they must not only turn over the records, but pay almost $100,000 in legal fees.
The board has also embarked on a long campaign against sustainability, spending $88,545 to the Clean Chesapeake Coalition in their ongoing fight to ensure that farmland remains open to residential development.
Some of the initiatives embraced by the board deserve support, but many others don't. Even as this board continues to tout its conservative credentials, it has provided an unending flow of money for legal expenses in support of failed or questionable objectives. More than anything, the spending level on legal defense should be an area that the incoming board looks at very closely.