Panel recommends home rule

March 08, 2006|by TARA REILLY


A task force recommended Tuesday that Washington County's government change to charter home rule, a system that would give the County Commissioners more authority to create local laws.

Joseph Kroboth III, chairman of the Task Force on Home Rule, said the nine-member group voted 5-4 in favor of charter home rule.

Four members supported a change to code home rule, which also would give the commissioners more power than they have under the current commission form of government.


"We believe that home rule allows the government to be most responsive to the citizens' needs," Kroboth said.

With charter home rule, the county would operate under a charter voted on by the public, and the commissioners' name would change to County Council, the report states.

The county administrator would be called a county executive, and the county would have the option of making that job an elected or an appointed position.

Included among the powers of a charter county is the authority to "repeal or amend local laws previously enacted by the General Assembly," and an authority called "police power," which allows the county council to "enact any law not in conflict with the laws of the state 'as may be deemed expedient in maintaining the peace, good government, health and welfare of the county,'" according to the report.

Voters opposed to legislation approved by the county council may petition that enactment to a referendum, according the report.

The task force explained code home rule as "local control over purely local subjects."

It's similar to charter home rule, but not identical, Kroboth said. A main difference is that code counties don't operate under a charter.

Code counties have the authority to enact laws, but there's confusion over whether they have the police power authority, the report states.

In code counties, legislation approved by the commissioners is subject to a referendum if the petition is filed by 10 percent of registered voters, according to the report.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he does not support a switch to either type of home rule.

"At this point, I'm not convinced it's to our advantage, except to make a few laws that (the General Assembly does) now for us," Munson said.

Donna Brightman, who represented the local delegation on the task force, said she believed delegation members weren't "completely opposed to home rule."

"I think there was a clear preference for charter," she said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the commissioners would discuss the recommendations at another meeting.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval suggested a thorough effort to educate the public about home rule.

Kroboth said the task force felt it wasn't its responsibility to lead a campaign but that it was willing to offer support to groups that take on that role.

If the commissioners decide to support charter home rule, Kroboth said the goal would be to have the charter placed on the ballot during the next presidential election or wait another four years for the next commissioners' election.

He said the charter could take about two years to write.

If the commissioners propose a switch to code home rule by May, the matter could be placed on the ballot in November's general election.

Charter? Code? What's the difference?

  • Charter home rule: Washington County government would operate under a charter approved by voters. The county would have the authority to "repeal or amend local laws previously enacted by the General Assembly."

  • Code home rule: The County Commissioners would have the authority to "repeal or amend local laws previously enacted by the General Assembly" in most instances. Code counties do not operate under a charter.

- Source: The Task Force on Home Rule report

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