Delegation drops plan to expand board

Bill would have let voters change system to 5 commissioners

February 07, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County residents will not have a chance anytime soon to vote on whether to expand the Board of County Commissioners from three to five members.

A bill that would have placed the issue on the November presidential ballot died last week for lack of support from the local all-Republican delegation.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, the longest-serving legislator in Carroll's delegation, proposed expanding the board and having members elected by district. He lobbied hard but unsuccessfully for his colleagues' support.

"I hold Don in the highest regard and respect," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines, delegation chairman. "This is the first local issue we have ever disagreed on, and I was right upfront with my opposition. The public support is just not there. It came from a small, disgruntled group."

Dels. Carmen Amedori and Nancy R. Stocksdale voted in favor of a referendum, but opposition from Haines, Del. Joseph M. Getty and Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson forced Elliott to scrap the measure.

"I feel I have done all I can," said Elliott. "Without the delegation's support, this bill will not be considered or given local courtesy [by the legislature]."

Expanding the board might have been acceptable had Elliott not insisted on a provision that commissioners be elected by district, said Getty. The Manchester attorney said he could support a five-member board elected at large.

"Voting by districts would polarize rather than unify the county," said Getty. "It would create an entirely different chemistry on the way local government works. I want to believe that Carroll County is small enough to elect good representatives at large, with everybody voting for leaders who are responsible to all."

Getty spoke from experience when he said districting Carroll would be a difficult task. He was charged with drawing districts eight years ago while serving on a charter committee -- a panel charged with writing the document that would have changed Carroll's government from commissioner to executive and a county council elected by district.

"It is hard to draw districts in Carroll County," said Getty. "They don't fall the way you would think. You can't draw districts in the way that people would like."

He pointed to Finksburg, where several residents supported Elliott's bill. The area, with a population of about 17,000, would be split in its representation between northern and southern Carroll, Getty said.

"Had this gone to referendum, it would have given people a chance to say what they want," said Nimrod Davis, chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, which serves as a liaison between South Carroll residents and the county. "What we have now is the delegation saying what it wants."

Voters rejected a 1992 charter government initiative. In 1998, a charter proposal again failed at the polls, as did an alternative plan that called for five commissioners elected at large. Elliott said his constituents told him they wanted regionally elected commissioners.

Ferguson, who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, said Elliott's proposal would "carve up the county and increase parochialism. Human nature being what it is, we would only increase the stalemates, with commissioners representing only their back yards."

During what the delegation characterized as intense debate Thursday, Elliott offered to modify his bill to three regionally elected commissioners and two at-large representatives. The compromise failed.

"It would not have hurt to put it on referendum," said Stocksdale. "Five commissioners would give more dialogue and more expertise. But I was uncomfortable with election by district."

While Amedori also voted to put the measure on the ballot, she vowed to campaign against it until November.

"The concept promotes big government, and it is a step toward charter," Amedori said. "Three commissioners are doing an excellent job reaching out to every citizen in the county."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier saw one advantage of having four colleagues on the board: Two would not be a quorum, as is the case now.

"It would be nice to be able to have a brainstorming session," she said. "Now, two of us cannot have a behind-the-scenes hashing out of things because two commissioners together is a quorum."

Frazier also opposed election by district -- a costly move that would reduce the pool of candidates, she said. She added that she remained open to discussing an increase in the number of commissioners.

"I am not so sure five commissioners would be able to divide up responsibilities and have the knowledge you need to make decisions," she said. "Maybe you can split up the social functions, but that is not the meat and potatoes of what the commissioners are elected to do."

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