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Lack of district representation a major flaw

January 20, 2008|By LLOYD "PETE" WATERS

Thomas Jefferson once said that, "Most bad government has grown out of too much government." I thought about this comment after reading Jeanne Singer's defense of the Washington County Charter Board's review of the home rule document.

Singer touts the home rule form of government as a more responsive approach to the many issues confronting our county. She emphasized more authority over local issues, less dependence on the General Assembly, increasing opportunities for citizen input and the opportunity to seek referendum when desired. All of these seem like noble issues for our citizenry.

I believe that many people glance at governments today and are not happy about politics in general. They see waste, disagreement corruption and inefficiency in dealing with taxpayers' money.

Often people believe that only aristocrats, or those people with special interests, should control government. People with the most money get elected, don't they? What was the real decision regarding the two "at-large" candidates? What's wrong with a government divided into districts and having a representative from each district? Even Davy Crockett was elected to represent the poorest settlers.

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I've frequently heard people complain that the metropolitan areas (i.e. Montgomery, Prince George's, Baltimore County and Baltimore City) control the politics of our state because of their large number of voters.

We don't have equal numbers, so our representation's clout is limited just because of demographics. Do the voters in Washington County truly believe they can have a great influence in the political process of our state, given these more populous voting districts? Have we elected any governors from Washington County recently? The majority rules, doesn't it? This is not a good feeling if you're in the minority.

People feel more isolated from government today than ever before. Look at the turnouts in the primary and general elections. The majority stay home. Maybe they really do rule. Somewhere I came across the line that "bad politicians are elected by good people who don't vote." Seems like an applicable line in today's world.

The home rule charter as drafted has not done anything to promote a better feeling of representation from the southern part of the county.

We see our money spent in Hagerstown, Maugansville, , etc., but we don't believe we get our fair share.

Maybe if we had a council member from south county, we could feel a little better than electing an at-large candidate, who probably has money, and maybe represents a special interest and is more apt to be voted in because he or she lives in a larger voting district. Yep, majority rules! Just because it does, the however, doesn't make it better.

Washington County government could be a whole lot more efficient if it didn't try to do things as it has for the last century. When you have part-time representatives, you get part-time representation, pure and simple. Adding two more council members to the mix will not fix the problem as long as our thinking and seeing moves forward, as it has for some time, with restricting blinkers.

I suspect charter home rule will be more of the same and actually cost more. Even Singer might be disappointed in the results.

If the county had truly studied this form of government in an objective manner, it would have discovered there are some good examples of home rule and some not so good. The same can be said of the commissioner format.

Although Singer certainly makes some valid defenses for changing our form of local government, she has not convinced me that her desires for a little autonomy and more citizen involvement will result in a better process.

If she were truly concerned about giving people the opportunity to be more represented, she and the other committee members would have supported representation by districts versus more of the same by electing at-large candidates. Voters, at least a few I know, would have felt more aligned with the process and more supportive.

Home rule for Washington County might become a reality, but I don't believe the little person who feels already disenchanted with politics and government will support it. I guess I am one of the minorities who doesn't believe the majority always gets it right.

More government doesn't always translate into better government. As Jefferson sat in his Monticello reading room, I'm thinking he paused in his wisdom and concluded, in fact, that "Most bad government has grown out of too much government." Given that subtle observation, I don't believe he would have supported the home rule concept - I don't believe I will either.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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