Bracing for change in Carroll

Method of electing commissioners will be altered in 2006

December 29, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

The political landscape in Carroll County will change significantly next year when the board of county commissioners expands from three to five members, elected by district.

Voters decided overwhelmingly last year to increase the size of the board and to elect its members by district instead of countywide.

"When voters go to the polls next year, they are going to be upset that they are only getting to vote for one commissioner, not all five," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican legislative delegation.

Haines predicted that the expanded board will propel Carroll into a charter government with a county executive and council. Voters most recently rejected a charter initiative in 1998.

"Based on this bill, Carroll will be a charter government by 2010," Haines said.

Del. Tanya Thornton Shewell said the change in the number on the board should bring more candidates into the race and make it easier for them to campaign.

"There will be a lot of people running, and they will be already known in their districts," she said. "It will mean better government with a broader diversity and different levels of expertise and knowledge."

Del. Susan W. Krebs said election by district makes a commissioner more accountable.

"That's how we are elected," she said.

The delegation will submit an emergency bill that carves Carroll County into five commissioner districts with nearly equal populations of about 32,000 soon after the General Assembly convenes next month. The governor typically signs emergency legislation into law in as few as 10 days.

Once the bill becomes law, prospective candidates can file and campaign for the seats. Five commissioners will take office in early December 2006.

"We have done enough to get this bill into shape with the right language," Haines said. "We will submit it as an emergency bill so that the governor can sign it into effect immediately."

The proposed legislation includes age and residency requirements and a map, which the delegation adopted Dec. 13. The map, known as Option 1, separates towns in North Carroll into two districts, placing Hampstead with Gamber and Finksburg in District 2 and putting Manchester in District 1, which includes Taneytown and the county's more rural areas.

District 5 encompasses Sykesville and Eldersburg, Carroll's most populous area. Westminster, the county seat, is undivided in District 3 and the remaining towns - Mount Airy, New Windsor and Union Bridge - make up District 4.

"One of my chief priorities was keeping together communities of interest," said Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, whose district includes South Carroll. "Dividing communities like Sykesville ... would be wrong."

Shewell, who conducted an unofficial survey of her constituents, said that Option 1 "gives North Carroll two voices, one for Hampstead and one for Manchester. Eldersburg and Sykesville share the same ZIP code, and there was no sense to splitting them."

Still, the legislators' choice went against the recommendation of the redistricting committee that worked for six months on the process, as well as the wishes of officials in the county's eight towns, who supported an alternative map, known as Option 2.

That map kept together towns with similar interests, such as Hampstead and Manchester, but split Finksburg along Route 140 and separated Sykesville along Route 32. The rejected map closely resembled those drawn for charter referendums that failed at the polls twice in the 1990s.

"With this map, we felt we didn't have to re-invent the wheel," said Thomas V. McCarron, a member of the redistricting committee and the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee. "The delegation has a right to determine what it wants to do, but they went against the wishes of most of their constituents in choosing option one."

Martin Radinsky, chairman of the Democratic Central Committee and a redistricting committee member, said: "The delegation made its political motives known with a map that makes it easier for Republicans to stay in office."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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