Time for home rule in Carroll

September 14, 1992

This Nov. 3, Carroll County voters have a chance to make fundamental change for the better in their form of government. The county's charter board has fashioned a document that provides for a political structure that is more responsive and accountable than the current commission form.

At present, there are no clear lines of responsibility for dealing with local issues. The commissioners derive their authority from the state constitution. A number of important county functions -- including the ability to float bonds -- are controlled by the General Assembly.

Other less important functions such as tavern closing hours and requiring rabies shots for dogs also need action from Annapolis. By refusing to introduce legislation, the county's State House delegation has the power to thwart needed initiatives. Moreover, the General Assembly, preoccupied with statewide issues, usually gives local issues cursory attention.

The responsibility of managing local affairs should be placed squarely on the shoulders of local officials. When there are difficulties with local government, the voters should know which public officials to hold responsible.

Nostalgia for old-time cracker barrel politics will not solve the county's growing list of problems. Carroll voters currently have little opportunity for meaningful participation in local government. Commissioners, who act in legislative and executive capacities, don't hold meetings that encourage public participation. They meet during the day, when most people are at work. A charter would democratize a local government that too often operates like a closed club.

Although many county voters feel there is nothing wrong with commission government, the commissioners increasingly find themselves reacting to problems rather than anticipating them. Government by part-time commissioners made sense when Carroll was primarily a rural county and minimal government services were required. In the past two decades, however, Carroll has nearly doubled its population and been transformed into a bedroom county with a growing population and all its attendant problems.

While there are a number of defects in the proposed charter, a flawed charter is better than none at all. A charter can be amended, and that process can begin immediately.

Rejecting the charter means that needed home rule could be delayed for years. The last time Carroll voters had the opportunity to vote on a charter proposal was 1968. The county cannot afford to wait another quarter-century. By then, the changes might come too late.

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