The home rule proposal: It's time for a new system

August 11, 2005

The Herald-Mail strongly supports the call by the Washington County chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV) for local home rule. It is time for this county to have a system of government in which the important decisions are made here and not in Annapolis.

The LWV is advocating a look at what is called "code" home rule. In that system, the county government would have final authority over all local ordinances, except for certain tax and fee proposals.

We would go further and advocate for full home rule, in which all issues would be decided by the county commissioners.

In the present system, many decisions, on everything from weed ordinances to excise taxes, depend on the timing of each General Assembly session.


This kind of government worked well 100 years ago, but now, as the county faces multiple challenges in dealing with growth and economic development, it makes about as much sense as running a horse-drawn wagon on Interstate 81.

We anticipate that there will be opposition from people who say that the delegation acts as a check on the commissioners and provides another chance for citizens to oppose laws they believe are bad.

If the commissioners are making bad decisions, they don't need a safety net, but a ticket from the voters back to private life.

Yes, this would put more responsibility on the voters to make good choices, but government shouldn't be designed for those who don't pay attention, but for those who do.

The current county board has come to depend on the delegation to fix what it didn't. It was the delegation that forced the commissioners to put a share of the excise tax revenues into farmland preservation and to do a serious study of the affordable-housing issue.

If the commissioners did these things on their own - and knew they had to do them right the first time - then the delegation would have more time to work on others things, such as getting the money needed to widen I-81.

To the task force the county will appoint to study this issue, we would add these jobs:

  • Look at the county executive form of government. Counties with this system get extra meetings every year with the governor, the primary source of funds in Maryland.

  • Consider a county council that would be elected based on districts. No part of the county would be forgotten if each had its own elected representative.
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