Measure would enlarge board Five commissioners proposed to House committee

March 14, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

After 137 years, Carroll County needs a change from its three-commissioner form of government, Del. Donald B. Elliott told a House of Delegates committee yesterday in Annapolis.

In testimony before the Commerce and Government Matters Committee, Elliott explained a bill that would permit a referendum vote on increasing the number of county commissioners from three to five.

"It is the view of the [Carroll County] delegation that the time is now to consider a restructuring of Carroll County government to meet the demands of the 21st century," the delegate said.

The bill, drafted by Elliott, would allow Carroll voters to decide whether to expand the number of county commissioners in a referendum ballot in the November 1998 general election. If the initiative succeeds, five commissioners would be elected in an at-large vote in the general election of 2002. The proposal also permits the issue to go to referendum if a special election is scheduled before June 1, 1998.

As Carroll continues to grow and faces increasingly complex issues, a five-member board of commissioners would provide a broader base of intellect and experience to govern the county, Elliott told the House committee.

The 1990 census put Carroll's population at 123,372, 28 percent growth over the previous decade. With a population well above 140,000 today, the county is considered among the three fastest-growing jurisdictions in the state.

Elliott said his original proposal would have provided for regional elections of an expanded commissioner panel, but the Carroll delegation voted 5-1 to back at-large elections.

"I thought that an individual coming from a particular region XTC would be able to bring to the board of commissioners a perspective on the region that he or she represents," he said.

Elliott said he agreed to support the bill because he "felt strongly" about giving Carroll residents the option of altering the structure of the county's governing body.

The three incumbent County Commissioners oppose the bill.

In his testimony yesterday, Elliott told the committee that an expanded commissioner panel would have advantages. He said that a five-member board would: allow for lengthier deliberation time, make it easier for commissioners to attend community events, allow commissioners to serve on more boards and act as liaisons to county agencies.

Del. Ellen L. Willis, the lone Democrat in Carroll's six-member State House delegation, was the only member to oppose the bill. Willis said she supported the bill in its original form, which provided for regional elections of commissioners.

"In my mind that was a good first effort to give more equal representation [to county residents,]" Willis said yesterday.

In its revised form, she said, the bill essentially maintains the status quo and spends more county money.

Willis also described the bill as an attempt to undermine a grass-roots effort to change the commissioner form of government to a charter system, which she supports.

"We need a checks-and-balances system in Carroll County, and I think charter provides that," she said.

Since September, the Carroll County Citizens for Charter Government has been working to collect about 4,000 signatures -- 5 percent of registered county voters -- on a petition to force the County Commissioners to appoint a board that would write a charter. Charter proponents support an elected county executive and county council.

The charter issue could appear on the ballot in November 1998 or before in a special election. Willis said a ballot that includes the charter question and an initiative to expand the number of County Commissioners "would greatly confuse the voters."

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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