Why charter died in Carroll Home rule: Advocates couldn't use rationale that succeeded in other metro counties long ago.

May 05, 1998

CARROLL County is hopelessly rooted in the past, more driven to pinch pennies with a horse-and-buggy form of government than to join the nearby metropolitan counties with a more progressive structure.

That would be one harsh view of county voters' resounding rejection Saturday to move from a commissioner form of leadership that dates to 1837 to a modern, charter home-rule form with an elected county executive and council.

A more benevolent, and perhaps more accurate, interpretation isn't that Carroll County sees the world so much differently than Maryland's other metropolitan counties, but that "good government" has become harder to define.

A generation or two ago, a spate of counties ushered in charter governments to repudiate the then-dominant, corrupt political machines. To underscore nonpartisanship, most of those first executives were Republicans in highly Democratic domains.

"The county executives were elected as symbols of clean government," historian George H. Callcott wrote in "Maryland & America, 1940-1980." Bribery convictions in Anne Arundel of Joseph W. Alton and in Baltimore County of Dale Anderson and Spiro T. Agnew, who resigned the vice presidency, proved otherwise.

Eight counties choose home rule after World War II for efficiency, less corruption and less political infighting -- the same reasons mentioned by Carroll countians who refused charter. Government is less apt to be seen as a solution in a conservative environment.

As in too many elections, voters seemed resigned to choose the lesser of evils. Charter opponents, though dissatisfied with the way things are, feared big government more. Advocates failed to make a compelling case for charter, only arguing it was better than three part-time commissioners.

Change in Carroll may come only if voters there view home rule as an improvement or if worsening local problems compel a change. Either of those seems unlikely, but predictions can be as fickle as perceptions of government.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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