Delegate Looks to Annapolis to Force Charter Government in Carroll
The Maryland General Assembly will consider a bill to amend the state constitution requiring counties like Carroll to adopt a charter government.
Currently, Maryland law grants counties the choice to adopt a commission, “home rule,” or charter government. More than half of the state’s counties are currently governed by a board of county commissioners. The house bill (HB0081), sponsored by District 5 Delegate Eric Bouchat (R), would mandate Carroll County and 11 other jurisdictions to draft a local charter and establish a separate executive branch for their local government.
Charter government is currently adopted by eleven other Maryland counties, including densely populated, Democratic-controlled Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s.
According to Bouchat at the recent Carroll County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast on January 2nd, the constitutional amendment “would necessitate all counties to adopt a constitution and establish an independent government with a county executive and a county council to ensure a separation of powers.”
Proponents argue that a charter would empower local elected officials to pass bills without the frequent involvement of the Maryland General Assembly. Currently, commissioners need state legislature permission for certain actions, prolonging the process and leading to delegates from outside Carroll voting on local issues.
However, residents and many elected officials remain skeptical, contending that the new governing style might lead to an expanded government, more liberal policies, increased taxes, and concerns about centralizing too much power in a new executive role. Many point to neighboring Frederick County, which transitioned to charter in 2014, as an example.
“Adjacent surrounding counties that went to charter have two things in common: More urbanization and a huge shift toward liberal politics,” said former Commissioner Richard Rothschild (R) in a 2019 editorial.
The debate over charter government in Carroll County has a long history, with county residents voting against charter six times via local ballot, the most recent occurring in 1998. Numerous attempts to bring charter to a vote have failed. In 2020, then-county commissioner Bouchat, along with commissioner Dennis Frazier and Delegate Susan Krebs (R), advocated for charter government, even holding a public town hall to highlight its benefits.
“In commissioner counties, the powers delegated are significantly more limited than those of charter-adopting counties. Keep in mind, that depends on what’s in the charter,” Krebs stated in the town hall.
During the same town hall, Frazier voiced his frustration in persuading General Assembly delegates, particularly given the Democratic supermajority, to support the conservative stance of Carroll County. He emphasized, “They lack the familiarity with our issues that we possess. Who could be more apt to decide the fate of Carroll County than the locally elected officials representing our community?”
Still, Carroll County has remained vehemently opposed.
While Bouchat’s bill is not the first attempt to introduce charter government to Carroll, it would represent the first instance of an effort made through legislation in Annapolis to force the county’s adoption. Residents on both sides of the issue have expressed concerns about imposing charter government on Carroll and other jurisdictions without local consent.
One local official, speaking under the condition of anonymity, remarked, “If charter government is about local control, why are we granting Annapolis the authority to dictate how we run our government?”
The charter government bill will undergo consideration during the upcoming legislative session in Annapolis scheduled for January 10th to April 8th 2024.