Eight votes for charter government Carroll County: Mayors' call for more modern system reflects recent frustrations.

April 26, 1996

CARROLL COUNTY'S municipalities are flexing their newfound political muscles in calling for charter government to save the county. With nearly a quarter of the county population inside their borders, and with long experience in charter-type rule, these communities must be reckoned with.

Mayors of the eight towns and cities told the county commissioners this week that they are fed up with the lack of competence, the lack of local authority and with the government-by-committee that has run Carroll for over 150 years. A single elected county executive would go a long way toward meeting those structural problems, the mayors said, even though Carroll voters have twice rejected the proposal in the past dozen years.

Charter government is no panacea for all that ails the county. But it offers the distinct advantages cited by the mayors that would move Carroll into modern times. A county executive and County Council would not be cheaper than three commissioners, but would be more cost-effective and more responsible.

Two major objections have swayed voters in past referendums -- the reluctance to change anything and the higher cost. But the growing, changing population of Carroll today is less in awe of 19th century political ways, and more apt to support a system that reflects contemporary needs. The added cost -- the three commissioners make $32,000 each -- would not be that much in any case and the county could well find the higher price a bargain.

The mayors are upset with the breakdown in relations between commissioners and Carroll's legislative delegation that blocked needed local bills in the General Assembly. But even a harmonious relationship between those two bodies would not resolve other problems of commission rule, and the county's strict dependence on Annapolis for many local decisions. There's also the opinion that the incumbent commissioners do not work well together, creating further deadlock and delay. Changing these personalities, however, would not solve the basic structural inefficiencies.

Given the current turmoil over steep tax increases and a development ban, the move toward a charter vote may have to wait a bit. But the commissioners are on notice, and the charter petitions soon could be circulating again.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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