Commissioners, delegates clash Legislators suggest bills to alter local government, ease reforestation rules


The County Commissioners and members of Carroll's State House delegation wasted no time yesterday disagreeing about how to run local government.

The first of several disputes centered on the county's forest conservation law -- said to be the toughest in the state. Delegation members think it is too strict.

Republican Del. Donald B. Elliott said Carroll's reforestation requirement that developers replace every tree they remove discourages companies from coming to the county.

"I want to take forestation off the table" when talking to prospects, by creating an exemption in the law for businesses, Elliott said.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown disputed Elliott's contention that the county reforestation law is driving business elsewhere.

Exempting business from the law would send a bad message, Brown said. It would imply that Carroll is not as concerned about the environment as other counties and would say that "disturbing land for business purposes is less onerous than disturbing it for residential purposes," he said.

Instead, Brown proposed a compromise. If delegation members stop proposing exceptions to the reforestation law, the commissioners would agree to revise the county ordinance.

Elliott, Republican Sen. Larry E. Haines and Republican Del. Joseph M. Getty, the only three legislators present at yesterday's meeting to discuss bills the delegation may sponsor when the General Assembly begins next month, agreed.

The proposed exemption for businesses will remain on the agenda at the delegation's public hearing Jan. 18, Haines said after yesterday's meeting, in case the delegation does not receive a written promise from the commissioners to revise the reforestation law.

A second Elliott proposal led to another skirmish yesterday. He wants county government to be led by five regionally elected commissioners. The commissioners -- Brown, Donald I. Dell, and Richard T. Yates -- are elected at large.

The county has been governed by three commissioners since the Civil War, Elliott said. But it has since "matured to the point where it should consider a new form of government."

The commissioners took the proposal as a personal affront. They indicated that they felt that the delegation members were implying that internal bickering was hurting local government.

"I oppose regional elections," Dell said. Changing the form of government "should be the citizens' decision. I like the old adage, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' I don't think anything's broke. I think we are more accessible than any other form of government."

The perception that two commissioners are at odds and the third rules with a swing vote is erroneous, Dell said. He produced statistics showing that the commissioners voted together 576 times in the past several months, and had fewer than 30 split votes in that period.

Regional representation by five commissioners would offer more openings for gridlock, Brown said, because each one might push a narrow agenda.

Yates said the Elliott proposal would cost more money but change nothing except make split votes 3-2 instead of 2-1.

Brown suggested that if the county wanted to look at changing its form of government, voters should be allowed to chose from among three proposals on the ballot in a general election: the current system, the Elliott proposal, and charter government with an executive and county council.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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