Washington Co. delegation divided on home rule

December 13, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HALFWAY - Two of Washington County's state lawmakers said Wednesday they will campaign against a proposal for home rule, while four others said they support it.

The split within the county's Maryland General Assembly delegation surfaced during a Chamber of Commerce forum on the coming state legislative session.

Each year, the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce hosts the local delegation for a pre-session discussion.

Wednesday's forum at the Plaza Hotel in Halfway capped the chamber's "Advocacy '07" series, in which prominent Maryland officials spoke in Washington County.

Washington County voters will decide by referendum on Feb. 12, 2008, whether to switch from the current commissioner form of government to charter home rule, which gives the county more power to govern itself.


A committee's draft for home rule in Washington County calls for a county council.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, spoke out Wednesday against the idea.

Shank said there's an inaccurate perception that local bills consume the delegation's time and that "we have to sell our souls to get these bills through," when neither is true.

Charter home rule upsets a good system of checks and balances, he said.

"It's an idea whose time has not yet come," Munson said, adding that he "vigorously" opposes it.

Within the delegation, though, Shank and Munson were outnumbered.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said charter home rule lets the county pass laws more quickly, instead of waiting until the annual state legislative session.

"Local officials are elected to run local government," said Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, arguing that state lawmakers unnecessarily spend time on local bills.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said he supports home rule, but would prefer a county executive instead of a county council.

"The strongest statement I can make is I wish I was a Washington County voter so I could vote in favor of the charter proposal," said Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, didn't attend the forum. He couldn't be reached on his cell phone Wednesday afternoon.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, also didn't attend, but said in a phone interview later that he's skeptical about home rule.

He cited checks and balances, too.

"If Washington County wanted a tax, I'd like a chance to stop it," Mooney said.

Chamber officials also asked the delegation for feedback on a local lobbying coalition's legislative agenda for 2008. The chamber is part of the coalition, along with other business organizations and government bodies.

The agenda is:

· State funding for an expansion of the library in downtown Hagerstown.

· A state policy making it "easier to reuse buildings for public purposes, especially schools."

· State funding for an improvement project at Hagerstown Community College.

· Inclusion in the state's preparations for a military Base Realignment and Closure plan.

· Protecting the county's tip-jar gaming system.

Views on home rule

Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly was divided Wednesday at a forum during a discussion of home rule, a proposal that will be put to county voters in February.

· Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington - in favor

· Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany - in favor

· Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington - opposed

· Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington - in favor

· Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington - opposed

· Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington - in favor

· Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington - did not attend forum and couldn't be reached afterward

· Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington - did not attend forum, but said in a phone interview that he's opposed

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