The Carroll County commissioners launched an effort yesterday to place on the November ballot a code home rule referendum that, if approved by voters, would grant the board more authority to enact local laws and bonds without approval from the General Assembly.
The code home rule movement came one day after state legislators failed, for the second time, to approve a bill that would have drawn districts from which to elect five commissioners in the fall election. The General Assembly also adjourned in April without approving a redistricting map.
The Carroll commissioners said yesterday that they will go ahead with countywide information sessions and public hearings on code home rule.
After holding the hearings, the commissioners have until Aug. 21 to ask the county elections board to place the code home rule question on the November ballot, County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender said yesterday.
That gives the commissioners only two months to educate residents about what code home rule means. If voters don't appear adequately informed by that time, the commissioners said, they would delay the referendum.
"Is that really enough time to do what we need to do?" Commissioner Julia W. Gouge asked.
Westminster resident Mary Anne Kowalski, who attended the commissioners' discussion on code home rule yesterday, wondered why the measure needed to be rushed. "Democracy requires an educated and informed community. We're side-stepping that completely," she said.
Political bickering sealed the fate of the county's redistricting bill during the regular legislative session. Carroll's all-GOP delegation in Annapolis favored one map, while the commissioners, the mayors of the county's eight municipalities and many residents backed a different map that would have divided the county into five commissioner districts.
Resentment of state representatives pushed most of Maryland's six code home rule counties to vote for that form of government, said Victor K. Tervala, a consultant for the Institute of Governmental Service at the University of Maryland, College Park.
"When people are disappointed with what's been going on in Annapolis with their delegation, that's almost always when they start talking about code home rule," said Tervala, an attorney. "Code home rule is really just about reducing the power of the General Assembly."
Charles County, which instituted a code home rule government in 2003, spent a year educating residents before holding a vote on the question.
A minimum of two public hearings must be held on code home rule before the August deadline, but the commissioners said they plan to hold at least five, in Westminster and the four corners of the county.