By virtue of appearing on a nationally televised C-SPAN program last month, some might consider New Windsor's Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. to have become an "expert" on local government. Mr. Gullo's appearance was a nice change of pace, since most of the time the leaders of Carroll's municipalities labor in obscurity, but these mayors and council members have been among the county's unrecognized assets.
With eight incorporated municipalities, Carroll County has the equivalent of a farm system for local government. These towns -- which vary in size from less than 1,000 residents to more than 14,000 -- frequently field a number of promising prospects. Some of the mayors have become county commissioners -- Manchester's Elmer C. Lippy, Hampstead's Julia W. Gouge and Westminster's W. Benjamin Brown to name three recent examples. However, many of these mayors never aspire to county leadership because of the constraints inherent in the commissioner form of government.
Instead, when municipal officials are interested in advancing their political careers, they often think in terms of the state legislature. And, although they can make substantial contributions in the General Assembly, county residents don't get the full benefits of the administrative expertise and leadership they developed running municipalities.
Town officials have hands-on experience in complex municipal problems such as operating water and sewer systems and overseeing police forces. They have to assemble budgets, levy taxes and develop long-range master plans.
As for the commissioners, despite being the highest elected county officials in Carroll they don't have as much administrative control over county affairs as mayors do over town business. The most important difference is that a commissioner shares administrative duties with two others on the board. The second is that the commissioners' legislative and executive functions blur the lines of authority. (If commissioners intervene in department affairs, they are micro-managing. If they don't participate, they are viewed as abdicating their responsibilities.)
Although the idea has met strong resistance in the past, adopting a charter government with a county executive would help clarify administrative responsibilities. Only by changing Carroll's antiquated form of governance can county residents hope to tap some of the best home-grown talent that has been developed in Carroll's towns.