GOP studies expansion of county board Proposals include government led by five commissioners

Referendum is sought

Opponents say record doesn't back charges of indecision, gridlock

November 17, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Dissatisfaction with the local leadership has Carroll County Republicans arguing for a change in government.

Nearly 100 members of the Republican Central Committee and local Republican clubs met Thursday to push for revisions in the county's three-member commissioner government. Many want to expand the board to five commissioners.

Del. Donald B. Elliott said he will gauge support from his delegation colleagues and fellow Republicans before introducing legislation to the 1997 General Assembly. If passed, the expansion proposal could go to referendum in November 1998.

Elliott cited frequent gridlock and indecision among the commissioners and a resulting impact on staff morale -- a perception Commissioner Donald I. Dell called erroneous.

"I want the public to know that 80 percent of our decisions are unanimous," Dell said Friday. "On other issues, we differ adamantly, but that is to be expected from any board."

Dell and his commissioner colleagues, all Republicans, had schedule conflicts and could not join the gathering in Gamber.

Dell said he will remain neutral on any proposal to change government, but he said he prefers expanding the board to a charter form of government, which would mean a county executive and council.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates opposes any change as "grossly unfair" to South Carroll, the most populous area of the county. "Now that South Carroll finally has some political clout, they want to change," said Yates of Eldersburg.

Elliott and Del. Joseph M. Getty organized the workshop to gather input and support and to examine options for revising government.

The delegates gave a history of failed charter efforts that date to 1968. Charter lost four years ago, by slightly less than a 2-1 ratio. Charter proponents have revived the issue and are canvassing the county for signatures that would lead to appointment of a charter-writing board.

After much research, Getty found little has changed in the charter debate, and he predicted proponents will not succeed.

"We won't see a change to charter in the near future, so it is best to fine-tune the existing structure," he said. "In 1968, the public perception was that the commissioners were ineffective because personality clashes."

Although charter supporters have blamed a lack of public education for referendum failures, Getty disagreed.

"The voting public is sophisticated, with a strong feeling for what they think will work here," he said.

Elliott first suggested expanding the board two years ago, "long before the recent confrontations between the delegation and the commissioners," he said.

"Three commissioners have served us well, but we have an expanded population," he said. "We should consider five. Five voices, five minds would result in better decision making."

Carroll now has about 140,000 residents, the result of significant population increases in the past six years.

Elliott also wants the five board members elected regionally "to improve service to constituents." He would not increase the commissioner salary, now at $32,500 a year, the highest in the state.

Many in the audience argued the salary issue.

"I came here to support a salary increase, a five-day workweek and three commissioners," said Griff Manahan. "That will give us the opportunity to attract better-qualified individuals."

A salary that would afford a family a decent living would attract a larger pool of applicants for the commissioner job, Arthur B. Lego said.

"Young, vital people should do a better job," said Lego. "And I say that even though I am a retiree myself."

John L. Armacost, a former two-term commissioner, spoke for gradual change. He would like to retain three commissioners and institute Code Home Rule, which would provide local officials broader legislative powers.

"If that doesn't work, then expand the board to five," said Armacost. "Lastly, go to charter."

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said Friday that all options should be placed on the ballot.

At the workshop, the delegates provided a list of possible options and a sample ballot, complete with a county map divided into five population districts.

Of the 50 people who replied to the sample, 19 favored expansion to five members elected by districts, 12 voted for the status quo and 11 favored electing three commissioners by district instead of at large.

The others were divided among numbers of commissioners, staggered elections and voting by district or at large. Several asked for home rule.

"It was an excellent meeting, that showed people are very much interested in government," said Elliott.

Getty told audience members they were following the best path to change.

"Change in local government requires a strong grass-roots movement with strong support from elected officials," he said. "There has to be a shift in political philosophy."

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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