County home rule to be object of study group

February 08, 2002

County home rule to be object of study group


A study group is being assembled to gauge public interest in switching to "home rule" government in Washington County, said Linda Irvin-Craig, who is on the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's government affairs committee.

The Chamber, the League of Women Voters of Washington County and the Greater Hagerstown Committee are working on the project jointly, she said.

The three organizations are not taking a position on whether there should be a change in the government structure but will later, Chamber President Fred Teeter said.

If the study group supports a change to charter government the issue would probably be put on the November 2004 ballot, said Irvin-Craig, a former County Commissioner.


The study group will have about 50 members from different facets of the community, including labor, business, and education, she said. The group would meet five times within the next year before reaching a conclusion, she said.

The three organizations will not push for a change unless the study group says one is needed, she said.

"The community has to buy into this," she said.

There were attempts in 1977 and 1988 to switch the county's form of government to charter but voters rejected the plans both times.

The different groups thought it was time to see if public sentiment has changed, she said.

Irvin-Craig, a County Commissioner from 1986 to 1994, said she has not taken a position on whether a change in the government structure is appropriate.

In mid-October, the three groups co-sponsored a presentation on the different types of government in order to gauge public interest.

Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas said there are three types of county government in Maryland:

- Commission: The governing body has only those powers that are specifically granted by the legislature. The amount of legislative flexibility depends on the degree of cooperation between the commissioners and the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. The duties of the commissioners are defined by the state.

This is the form of government Washington County has.

- Charter: The government does not need additional state authority to pass laws within its express powers. The powers and duties of the commissioners are defined by a county charter.

A switch to a charter government must be approved by the voters. The process of switching to a charter government usually takes about two years, in part because a charter has to be written.

- Code : Permits commissioners to enact local laws but is more restricted than the charter form of government.

In order to adopt the code form of home rule, county commissioners must hold at least two public hearings then approve a resolution by a vote of two-thirds, or four of five of the commissioners in the case of Washington County. The issue must then be taken to referendum at the next congressional election.

Of the 23 Maryland counties, 10 have the commission form of government, eight have the charter form and five have code, she said.

Anyone interested in applying for the group should call the chamber at 301-739-2015.

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