EASTON - They came to this 300-year-old Eastern Shore town this weekend to cheer on their team in Annapolis.
They -- about 200 officials from the state's cities and towns -- were on hand for the three-day Maryland Municipal League's annual legislative conference here, a mostly political affair that determines what the lobbyists for Maryland's municipalities will push for in the General Assembly this session.
But while delegates from all regions of the state were lending support to requests for more flexible zoning laws and more state aid, most of Carroll County's municipal leaders stayed home.
Only Taneytown and Sykesville -- each with two delegates here for the conference that ended yesterday -- sent representatives.
For the municipalities that didn't send someone to the three-day mixture of business and fun -- after all, the historic Tidewater Inn and Easton's proximity to the Bay are not exactly conducive to a workaday grind -- the conference is a much less important event than the MML's four-day annual convention in Ocean City. Attendance during that June convention totaled more than 700, including 49 from Carroll County.
That's more than three times the number of people who showed up here Thursday, even though, league officials insist, the outcome of this weekend's affair usually is of greater significance in the way local officials do their jobs.
"This is really a time to get our priorities for this legislative season in place," Jon C. Burrell, the league's executive director, said last week. "But, while most towns can send people to Ocean City, many don't end up sending them to the legislative conference."
One of the reasons, cited by several Carroll officials, is that the league's legislative priorities have been known for some time.
"It's not a money thing," said Gary W. Bauer, a Hampstead councilman and member of the league's legislative committee. "The convention in Ocean City is full of workshops to bring us up to speed in doing our jobs. This one is so much shorter, and is less general."
For months, cities and towns submit proposals to the MML's 29-member legislative committee. This year, that committee had made its decisions weeks before the weekend conference.
Those decisions -- voted on yesterday -- include presenting a bill that makes the enforcement of municipal laws easier, as well as a bill loosening the definition of zoning variances, a move that will give localities more flexibility in zoning.
The league also endorsed two key policy positions, one calling for increased state money for state-mandated programs and another asking for more help with setting up the mandatory recycling programs that are to be in place by 1994.
Those were chosen from an original list of more than 17 requests from 14 of the 149 municipalities represented by the league. Some of the issues passed over this year include a tax on videotape rentals, a boat slip rental tax, and mandatory deposits on aluminum and glass beverage containers.
Hampstead's Bauer offered perhaps another reason for the county's low attendance here.
"These pieces of legislation aren't real sexy issues," he said.
Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy Jr., a usual attendee at the conference and a former member of the league's legislative committee, did not attend this year because of his campaign for County Commissioner.
"It's not because we don't support the MML," Lippy said. "I think that it is the one place in the state where elected municipal officials can learn the tools of the trade."