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Area chamber backs charter

January 20, 2008|By BRIEN POFFENBERGER

The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the proposed home rule charter.

Local decisions should be made locally and Washington County has outgrown the need for state supervision to govern our own affairs.

The General Assembly holds all legislative power in Maryland and it grants this power to counties based on the structure of their government. Our form of government - commissioner - is the weakest.

With commissioners, even county-level decisions rest with the General Assembly and local officials merely carry out what the General Assembly decides.

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Counties freed of this state control - those that have adopted home rule - have exerted their dominance in Maryland while more rural, less affluent communities have been held in check.

Today, all but eight of Maryland's 23 counties have adopted home rule and others are considering making the change.

By 2010, we may be one of a few county governments still dependent on Annapolis and the few legislative protections and courtesies now extended to commissioner counties might be weakened even further.

The separation of voters from their government is at best inconvenient and at worst a tactic to hide the decision-making process from those affected by it.

This distance short-circuits our legislative process, so hearings held in Annapolis never adequately vet issues important to Washington County.

Even those voters able to overcome the geographic distance cannot bridge the electoral one. Though we control only eight seats, the entire 188-member General Assembly decides our local laws. Most of those legislators have no connection to Washington County and cannot be held accountable by voters here. Removing access - both geographically and electorally - removes the critical give-and-take on which the legislative process depends.

Washington County residents know best how to shape their future and charter home rule would make that possible. Unlike commissioner government, charter would allow us to make our own laws, handle our own finances and decide how the local government best represents us.

Decisions be made locally, plus the charter would also require county government to notify voters of proposed new laws, hold local hearings and publish notices in local papers. Under charter, if the voters did not agree with the government, they could reverse a decision through the referendum process.

And if something is not working with the charter, Washington County voters could change it without permission from Annapolis.

Adopting the proposed charter is a vote for good government. As government grows increasingly intrusive in our lives and businesses, we should do everything we can to bring decision-making closer to home where our voices can be heard.

Please join the chamber in supporting charter home rule for Washington County, and vote "yes" on Feb. 12. For more information, please visit www.charterboard.org.

Brien Poffenberger is president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce

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