`Code home rule' referendum pressed in Carroll


South Carroll Del. Susan W. Krebs and several Eldersburg residents pressed yesterday for a referendum to grant more local control to the Carroll County commissioners, who have to wait for all proposed legislation to pass through the General Assembly in Annapolis.

They urged the commissioners to ask voters in the November election to consider a "code home rule" style of government, described as a happy medium between the charter system and Carroll's traditional commissioner format.

"It just would give the commissioners the authority to enact the laws they propose," Krebs said. "Why should you have to go to Annapolis to testify on a bill? You should be able to do it here in your community."

Under code home rule, fewer issues, such as nuisance laws and forward-funding for roads, would have to be approved by the legislature. But the commissioners would still lack the authority to levy taxes, according to County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender.

The county commissioners have the authority to request the referendum on code home rule, said William R. Varga, an assistant attorney general.

While the three commissioners favor more local control, they said code home rule could not be properly explained to residents in time for the November election.

With the continuing legal battle over how to implement commissioner districts as the board grows from three to five members this year, the commissioners do not want to appear to be usurping power from the state representatives.

"Right now, it might just look like we were lashing back at the delegation," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said yesterday. "It might seem too political at this point."

Delaying the referendum until the 2008 election could prevent confusion about the process, the three commissioners agreed. Still, Minnich said he welcomed further discussion on the issue.

Six Maryland counties operate under code home rule, a format most recently approved in Charles County.

Voters in Frederick - a county with a larger population than Carroll that maintains a board of commissioners - rejected code home rule in a referendum four years ago.

Disputes over how to draw Carroll's five commissioner districts for the November election could have been avoided under code home rule, Krebs said. When the General Assembly session ended last month, legislators had failed to approve a redistricting map for the county.

"There's a lot of faith in our local government right now," said Eldersburg resident Ross A. Dangel, a spokesman for the Freedom Area Citizens' Council. "There's less faith in our delegation to do right by citizens."

Carroll voters rejected code home rule in 1968 and in 1984. Efforts to bring charter government also failed at the polls twice in the 1990s. Among jurisdictions in the Baltimore area - including Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties - only Carroll lacks a charter system.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, who worked on a 1998 charter initiative, believes the timing is right for a referendum.

"Code home rule ought to work this time, given the debacle we just had with the legislative session," Herman said. "It is a good move that has no downside. Responsibility for governing the county should rest with those closest to the electorate."



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