Home rule lets local yo-yos foul up local government

December 22, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

A select, blue-ribbon ad hoc task force committee says it will report back to the Washington County Commissioners next month with recommendations on the issue of Home Rule.

For those who forget their high school civics, "home rule" is the intergovernmental process through which you take power that is currently vested in one group of yo-yos and give it to a different group of yo-yos.

The reasoning is that it is much more efficient to let elected leaders screw things up at a local level without having to go all the way to Annapolis to get a group of state lawmakers who might not be familiar with the situation to screw it up for you.

But Tim, this is the holiday season. Christmas is just four days away. Instead of writing about boring governmental process, shouldn't you be writing about holly and mistletoe and last-minute shopping and figgy pudding and Santa and family and friends and the merry laughter of children on Christmas morn?


Hey look, it's called discipline. If we lose our focus on the major issues of the day, nothing is ever going to happen here. You could learn from me. You want somebody to give you 20 inches on fruitcake, you've come to the wrong policy wonk.

Besides, for your comedic satisfaction, you need to be looking ahead to the new year, and I think there is no more promising event than the possibility that we might get an entirely fresh form of government drawn up by the same people who brought us the Washington County Disaster Evacuation Plan.

And I am steadfast in my support for anything that will put more power in the hands of John Munson.

According to newspaper accounts, "County government is run according to its charter, which addresses legislative and executive functions and the county's structure, (but) under charter home rule voters approve the charter and have the ability to petition for a referendum to amend laws in the charter ..."

OK, enough. I think that should make it clear that no one has any idea of what's going on here. Which is good. You always root for a few "unintended consequences," such as a referendum that will allow the voters of Washington County to approve an attack on Guam.

County Commissioner Bill Wivell said home rule would "give a lot of power to the voters."

And that's a good thing - why? All you need to know about the voters I can sum up in three words: Hagerstown City Hall. If that doesn't jolt you back from this little utopian political world, nothing will.

Nothing like the masses to determine your future, especially in a city that so relishes tearing down our National Pastime. How long until the voters pass a referendum requiring us to spend our spare time the same way they spend their spare time - watching professional bowling on the couch while licking the bottom of a can of onion dip.

Ten minutes in, we'd be subjected to the Dean Wormer Referendum: "No more fun of any kind!"

Of course we'll be conflicted, because a government that has the local power to beat down anything new and exciting will also be a government that has the power to enact some new and exciting taxes.

Of course there's always Home Rule Lite, also called "Code Home Rule," which doesn't allow taxation, but "would give the commissioners the power to enact, amend or repeal local law through a resolution without prior state legislative ..."

Sorry. You start reading too much of this stuff and the eyes glaze and pretty soon you don't know if you're listening to the State Code or Monty Python.

In summation, I'll say this: I'm in favor of whatever type of Home Rule it is that allows you to elect an all-powerful County Executive, like what's worked out so well for Montgomery County.

Imagine the benefits and efficiencies of having all your stupidity consolidated into one person, instead of spreading it out in among any number of little, elected office holders.

As it stands, our electoral stupidity is spread so thin it is barely of any use at all. Which probably explains why, after three weeks of anxious waiting, we still have not seen hide nor hair of the volunteer cowboys that we were promised.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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