Commission should grow to fit county, delegate says

November 29, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

How many commissioners does it take to lead Carroll County?

For the past 140 years, the answer to that question has been three. But a state delegate believes this once-rural county has grown so quickly and its problems have become so complicated that the Board of County Commissioners should be expanded to five members.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Republican from New Windsor, said five commissioners -- each representing a district -- would better serve Carroll's growing population, foster more in-depth debate and perhaps save the county money.

"The problems we have here are more numerous and complex than 20 years ago. With five commissioners, you have a broader intellectual and experience base. It engenders better decision-making," he said.

This is not the first time Elliott has made a pitch for more commissioners. In 1998, Elliott was the strongest supporter of a referendum to increase the board to five at-large members, part of the same ballot asking voters to approve charter government. Voters rejected both proposals.

Elliott says his proposal deserves another chance. The emotionally charged debate over charter government overshadowed the five-commissioner proposal, Elliott said. Without that interference, county residents may be more receptive to the idea, he said.

Elliott plans to present a draft of his legislation Dec. 8 at a joint meeting of the county's state delegation and the commissioners. The reaction has been mixed.

"I think the timing is right for this issue to be considered. It can be considered free of all the charter chatter that existed in the past," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Manchester Republican.

Still, Getty said he had reservations about the proposed change.

He said he feared that under Elliott's proposal, the interest of the entire county would take a back seat to the interests of the districts.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who said she was against the change, agreed.

"Districts bother me because everyone fights only for their district. We need to think about the entire county," she said.

That view is not shared by Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who said she would consider the idea.

"I am not averse to taking a look at it," she said.

Elliott, 68, a pharmacist by profession, has been a state delegate since 1987. He said his push to expand the board may be the most important piece of legislation he has proposed.

Under the current system, many issues are decided on a 2-1 vote, meaning a commissioner must persuade just one other commissioner to get a proposal approved, Elliott said. With five seats, a commissioner would need to win the votes of two colleagues.

"This is growing county. It requires a lot of deliberation. There is more deliberation when there is a lot of 3-2 decisions," Elliott said.

Charter opponents resisted change because they feared it would increase the size and cost of government. Del. Carmen Amedori, a Westminster Republican, said those fears may apply to an expanded board of commissioners.

Elliott, however, believes the expense of two additional commissioners would be minimal.

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