Charter Question's Fundamental Flaw CARROLL COUNTY

October 13, 1992

When the charter board decided to make the county administrator position appointive, it violated one of the fundamental reasons for home rule government. The bedrock reason for writing a county charter is to ensure that local government is responsive and accountable to its citizens. As envisioned by the charter, the county administrator is going to have day-to-day control over the government. Yet this person will be directly accountable to the five-member council -- not to the citizens.

Is this rather basic shortcoming reason enough to vote against the charter?

Members of the charter board apparently believed that the county's purported fear of big government would doom a charter that called for an elected executive. During the drafting of the charter, its opponents often raised the canard that all Maryland's counties with fiscal problems and increasing taxes have one thing in common -- an elected county executive.

As currently proposed, the five-member elected council will probably have less power than the appointed administrator. No single council member will be able to order a department head to take a certain action. It will take a majority of the council to do that. Because the department heads report to the administrator, that person will have the power to order department heads around.

Even though this is a major flaw, it should not be used as the justification for voting down the charter. Carroll's citizens are not doing themselves any favors by maintaining the commissioner form of government.

Considering the rapid pace of change in this county, it makes no sense to wait for the General Assembly's annual session to enact important legislation. Moreover, with the commissioner form of government, there is no leadership and no long-range vision in county government -- the very stuff that is desperately needed.

Under the provisions of the charter, the council can amend the charter and put the question to the voters for approval.

Our suggestion is that the Carroll voters approve the charter and then pressure the council to create an elective county executive position. By taking that action, Carroll's citizens are much more likely to have a local government that is responsive and accountable.

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