Carroll executive expansion OK'd

Bill will add two commissioners

police-force issue to go to referendum

April 09, 2008|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun reporter

Carroll voters can expect an expanded Board of Commissioners, and a say in creating a county police force, with the approval of two bills aimed at helping to resolve both issues.

The General Assembly passed the measures Monday - one requiring a referendum on a local ordinance to create a county police force, the other designing districts for five commissioners.

"It was a struggle, but we got it out," said Del. Tanya Thornton Shewell, a District 5A Republican.

The bills represent the culmination, at least for now, of two protracted county controversies.

The state delegation introduced the legislation requiring a referendum on a county police force ordinance after Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning and a vocal contingent of residents and others protested the board's October vote to transition from the Maryland State Police resident trooper program.

Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Dean L. Minnich testified against the measure in Annapolis last month, saying that the board had the authority to make law-enforcement decisions. They and Commissioner Michael D. Zimmer also have said they believe an appointed chief, rather than an elected sheriff, would be a better choice to lead a countywide force.

But several Carroll state legislators, including Shewell and Sen. Larry E. Haines, said they favored giving residents a say - something Tregoning and others have supported.

"The people needed to have a chance to weigh in on public safety issues," Shewell said. "I'm happy the people have won."

An amendment added last month sets the legislation's expiration for Dec. 31, 2010.

Tregoning said he was "satisfied that ... the governmental process was successful."

"From the very onset, it was our contention ... that the commissioners should have included the public and law enforcement in this issue before they made a final decision to transition to a county police force," he said.

Del. Susan W. Krebs said she had hoped the issue would be resolved locally, not in the Assembly.

"Unfortunately, this just punts the ball down the road," Krebs said. "Now the commissioners have to go out and sell their plan. ... It's going to take a lot of good information being put out ... so that people can understand what their choices are."

Gouge said she was "very disappointed" with the bill's adoption.

"The delegation has said they are running Carroll County from Annapolis," Gouge said. "They have hampered us in providing public safety to the citizens."

While the county could continue with a long-range planning session on policing, she said, "We still have to figure what to do for our people" in the short term.

But Zimmer said he was "perfectly content to live with the popular election [on] the question of the future of law enforcement."

Also passed Monday was redistricting legislation that paves the way for a five-member Board of Commissioners. The delegation reintroduced the bill this year, after the 2006 session ended without a Senate vote on it.

Residents had approved a referendum in 2004 to switch from three commissioners elected at large to five elected by district.

A bipartisan redistricting committee appointed by the commissioners at that time favored a map known as Option 2, which divided South Carroll, placing Sykesville and Eldersburg in different districts. Town officials and many residents also supported that map - a position the then-commissioners said the delegation should honor.

But the county delegation chose - and reintroduced - Option 1, a map that kept the South Carroll communities together but placed North Carroll's neighboring towns of Hampstead and Manchester in separate districts.

Under the new law, residents could vote for a five-member board in the next commissioner election, in 2010.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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