Carroll Report Maryland Muckraker

Muckraker: ‘Strong opposition’ to Bouchat’s charter government bill from Republican counties, Delegate

This article brought to you by Maryland Muckraker.

Delegate Eric Bouchat, a Carroll County Republican, is the lone sponsor of a bill, HB0081, that would require every county in Maryland to adopt a charter form of government, where each jurisdiction would feature its own constitution, an executive, and a legislature, instead of a commissioner form of government, where each county simply has a board of county commissioners like Carroll and 11 other jurisdictions have now.  

Bouchat says requiring charter governments across the state would foster local sovereignty. Because charter governments issue a constitution, they are granted more power from the state when compared to commissioner governments, which issue no constitution. And because charter governments include a legislature, usually in the form of a council, they possess more policy making ability when compared to commissioner governments, which defer much of the function to the Maryland General Assembly. 

“Commissioner counties are not independent sovereign bodies since they lack a local constitution and are merely wards of the General Assembly,” Bouchat said while presenting his bill during an early February Environment and Transportation Committee meeting.    

But despite a desire for more autonomy from the Democrat supermajority in Annapolis, many Republicans are speaking out against the bill, taking issue with how the decision would be made at the state level instead of the local level. 

Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist representing Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, and Washington counties, each reliably Republican jurisdictions, voiced a “very strong opposition” to the bill during the same Environment and Transportation Committee meeting, maintaining the decision should be kept local.  

“It is not the state legislature, or those in the more populous areas, that should be telling these counties what to do,” he said. “The forms of government in each of the 24 jurisdictions, Baltimore City being included, is not a mistake. It’s what the people that live and reside in those counties want.”

Delegate Deb Rey, a St. Mary’s County Republican, also testified against the bill, similarly maintaining that deciding what form of government a county should have should be left to the county’s residents and elected officials. 

“Since Delegate Bouchat is not a citizen of St. Mary’s County, he has no authority to bring this bill on our behalf,” she said. “The bill was neither proposed by St. Mary’s citizens, supported by the county government, nor brought forth by the [county’s] delegation.”

In January, Informed Carroll County, a local news site designed to keep Carroll citizens informed, published an article on the issue, where they quoted an anonymous elected official in Carroll who also took issue with the decision being made at the state level. “If charter government is about local control, why are we granting Annapolis the authority to dictate how we run our government?” they asked.  

Bouchat’s statewide mandate bill aside, expressing enthusiasm for charter government locally in 2019 was then Delegate Susan Krebs, also a Carroll County Republican, who confirmed that commissioner governments are hamstrung compared to charter governments. “In commissioner counties, the powers delegated are significantly more limited than those of charter-adopting counties,” she said in a quote picked up in the same Informed Carroll article.     

While critics of charter government cite the nearby counties who have recently adopted the form and since become more urban and more liberal, a sentiment expressed by former Republican Commissioner Richard Rothschild who in a 2019 editorial noted how “Surrounding counties that went to charter have two things in common: More urbanization and a huge shift toward liberal politics,” though it remains unclear if the move to charter government caused the urbanization and liberalization or simply correlated with it.     

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