Group studying home rule for county briefed by 3 officials

June 20, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

A task force exploring the wisdom of a switch to "home rule" government in Washington County heard from three county government officials Wednesday night.

Washington County Administrator Rodney Shoop and Assistant County Attorney John Martirano made speeches at the second meeting of the study of local government task force.

The task force was created by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters of Washington County and the Greater Hagerstown Committee.


Shoop and Martirano explained the "commission" form of government, which is what Washington County has.

Under the commission form of government, the governing body has only those powers that are specifically granted by the legislature.

The result is a good check and balance system, Shoop said.

"We are the children and the state is mom and dad," said Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz, who is on the task force. The "children" do not always get what they want, he said.

The task force contains government officials, retired citizens, business leaders and others.

The group will meet six times, voting at the sixth meeting on whether it recommends the pursuit of a change in the form of government, said Evelyn Williams, editor of the league newsletter, who acted as group facilitator.

She said the group would not make a recommendation before December because it does not want to affect the November elections.

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

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

Williams has described the three types of county government in Maryland as follows:

  • Commission: 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.

  • Charter: The government does not need state authority to create laws or levy new taxes. 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, partially because a charter has to be written.

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

The county could switch to a code government by a vote of two-thirds of the county government. The change would go into effect 30 days later.

In response to questions, Shoop and Martirano said they did not know enough about two other possible forms of government to compare them.

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

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