Remodeling County Government

June 07, 1995

Like new homeowners who rush in to remodel, repaint and repaper their new purchase, every new board of commissioners in Carroll feels compelled to reorganize county government.

The current board is no exception. It has redrawn the county's organizational chart in the hope of increasing efficiency and lowering costs. Shortly after taking office, the commissioners said they would retain a consulting organization affiliated with the University of Maryland to study Carroll government. Once they discovered the review would cost $10,000, commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Donald I. Dell took a "stab" -- in Mr. Dell's words -- at reorganizing. The result resembles the work of a homeowner who is handy with tools but doesn't have the finesse of a skilled tradesman.

The basic framework seems to make sense. Many of the county's existing departments remain intact and have the same missions. But there have been some substantial changes. The Department of General Services, an amorphous department with a vague mission, has been eliminated. The Department of Public Works has taken over the job of operating, repairing and maintaining the county's buildings, roads, vehicles and equipment. Carroll's Department of Planning will not only establish development policies, it will also have the responsibility of enforcing them.

Public Works has become the county's largest department, excluding education. Planning, however, has become a center of power. Planning will review and issue all permits including zoning, site plans, grading, storm water management, building and forest conservation.

The logic behind this consolidation is sound. Just about every government action involving development will be in one department and should enhance accountability. The most rTC obvious drawback is the lack of an institutional counterweight to this powerful entity. The selection of the person to replace Planning Director Ned Cueman, who is leaving county service, is one of most crucial appointments this board will make.

Despite the movement of boxes on the county's organizational chart, there won't be a significant reduction in county employees and hence little savings. But that is to be expected from a lean county government unburdened by large bureaucracies.

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