Time to change
Gazette editorial from July 28, 2004: Time to change
Unfortunately, I do not have the URL for this Gazette editorial available. I will paste the entire editorial in this post for a reference source for future discussion about the future forms of government in both Carroll and
Time to change our county government
Many questions tend to surface every election.
Among them are these two: Should we give a pay raise to our county commissioners to compensate for the long hours they put in for what is supposed to be a part-time job? Should we change our form of government?
These questions may seem unrelated, but they are not. The form of government we have in Frederick County has a lot to do with the kind of leadership we elect, and what we expect of those leaders, as well as what we are willing to pay them.
These two issues will not go away given that our once rural and small county is growing into a major metropolis. As the population continues its climb, and the demands put on the five board members follow suit, the time has come for a change in the county's form of government.
Under our current form of county government, commissioners receive $30,000 a year for what is supposed to be a part-time job, but all five work at least 40 hours a week, and some put in many more hours. They meet twice a week year-round as a body to debate policy and make budgets, but each member also serves as a liaison to county departments, and they all attend public functions as commissioners and interact with residents every day.
County residents have repeatedly voted against a change in government, most recently in 2002 when residents voted against code home rule, a decision we supported because it was not a form of government suitable to the needs of our population.
But in a 1997 Mason-Dixon survey for The Gazette, 78 percent of the 411 residents polled favored a charter government that included a county executive and council. We believe had the voters been given that option in 2002, they would have chosen it.
Maryland allows three types of government for its counties: commissioner, code home rule and charter. In a nutshell, under the commissioner form of government, board members who are elected at large must present legislation to the county's eight-member delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. The delegation, not our county commissioners, chooses whether to take the bills to the full assembly in
Under code home rule, commissioners remain, but they have a little more power to propose and enact legislation, and power to levy taxes and borrow money through issuing bonds, although both are regulated by the General Assembly.
In a chartered government, the county has a system that most resembles our national system, with an executive and a legislative body. Under charter, local voters create and approve a document that describes how the government will run, including how many seats would be on the council; whether or not they would be at-large, districts, or a combination; whether or not there would be an executive branch; what checks and balances would exist, and more.
The approval of the charter means the voters agree to be governed by the document.
A wise man once said, "The form of government is only as good as the people we elect to serve us. If we elect idiots, we get idiotic government no matter the form of that government." Whatever our form of government, we need to elect good people who have the interest of the voters at heart.
But with the growth that has come, we do not just need good people, but a better form of government, more suited to the growing demands of county residents.
Our commissioners lead a county of 2,000 employees, with an operating budget of $330 million. We pay a county manager to run the day-to-day part of the government, but rely on five part-time people, making $30,000 a year, to run a county this size.
A $330 million company would pay its executives significantly more, and would expect them to work full time. We realize, of course, that there are some differences between government work and the private sector, so we are not advocating a six-figure salary, but we should recognize that the job of county commissioner is not part time. We should call it what it is, a full-time job, and make the pay equal to that to attract good talent that does not have to work second jobs to make ends meet.
It is time for
And beyond them, laws we want must then be approved in the General Assembly. That's too much control in too few hands and by too many people who do not have a lot to do with our county. We have reached the point of maturity, and should govern ourselves.
According to "Home Rule Options in
The process is thus: county voters request the creation of a charter board via petition (with 10,000 of the county's registered voters, or 20 percent); commissioners nominate five people to draft the charter, or petitions would have to be circulated to nominate the board; at the next general or congressional election, people vote whether or not to create a charter board with the members presented; if the charter board is approved, it has 18 months to draft a charter and present it to the commissioners; people would then vote on it during the next general or congressional election.
The process is long and complicated, but good government is the result of thoughtful and deliberate movements.
We call on
To do so this fall would take a monumental, grassroots effort. The county commissioners would need to nominate a charter board by Sept. 22, no fewer than 40 days before the Nov. 2 election. Alternatively, five people could be nominated via petition (signed by no fewer than 2,000 registered county voters, or 5 percent of the voters) by Oct. 13, no fewer than 20 days before the election.
Even if we are not successful this fall, we call on the residents to continue the process until we have the kind of government that reflects the needs of our county.