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Del. Myers: Charter home rule would allow Washington County to take care of day-to-day business

Current form of county government requires it to depend on Maryland General Assembly for certain types of legislation

June 19, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com
  • Del. LeRoy Myers chats about home-rule government Wednesday morning at a breakfast meeting attended by the Washington County Board of Commissioners, members of the county legislative delegation, experts and interested residents.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Del. LeRoy Myers said that having a charter home-rule form of government would enable Washington County to take care of business day to day instead of relying on a 90-day annual session of the Maryland General Assembly.

Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, kicked off a discussion on the subject with a breakfast meeting Wednesday attended by the Washington County Board of Commissioners, members of the county legislative delegation, experts and interested residents.

The county’s current commissioner form of government requires it to depend on the Maryland General Assembly for certain types of legislation that under charter home rule could be handled at the local level.

“ ... Why not allow Washington County to take care of many decisions which this would allow us to do?” Myers asked at the meeting, which was attended by about 50 people at Hagerstown’s Academy Theater. 

Under charter government, typically there would be a county executive and a county council, rather than five county commissioners.

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Myers, who said he had been thinking of the idea for at least a year and a half, said he wanted to start the discussion now so that the issue could be on the ballot for the 2014 elections, if the county moves forward on it.

“I didn’t want the county to spend the money on a special election,” Myers said.

“We at least want to have a good conversation, and I believe that with a proper charter, people would be more in favor of it now,” said Myers, who announced last month that he is not going to run for re-election for another four-year term in the House of Delegates.

Myers, who lives in Washington County, has said he likely will run for another political office and was looking at several options, but did not directly answer a question if he was interested in a position at the county level.

He said Wednesday that there are many issues in Allegany County, part of which is included in his legislative district, that local elected officials are able to take care of themselves.

Allegany County operates under a form of government known as code home rule.

“Lots of things in Allegany County that they are solving there, we (in Washington County) have to take to Annapolis,” he said.

Eleven counties in the state, including Frederick County, have charter home rule or have voted to adopt such a form of government.

Six counties have code home rule, including Allegany County.

Six other counties, including Washington and Garrett counties, have a county commissioner form of government.

Others who spoke at the meeting included Victor Tervala, an expert on the subject and author of a book called “Home Rule Options in Maryland,” and Rocky Mackintosh, a Frederick County resident who served on a charter board — the body responsible for drafting a charter — in that county.

“ ... Just a few years ago we only had eight charter counties. We’ve had this great spurt in the last 10 years,” Tervala said.

In the last decade, four counties have tried to adopt a charter form of government, and three have been successful, he said.

Those counties are Cecil, Dorchester and Frederick counties, with the only failure being a 2008 effort in Washington County that was voted down by residents.

Even so, moving to a charter form of government is not easy, Tervala said.

“It is exceedingly hard to get charter rule even if you do everything right ...” Tervala said.

One reason why anybody should be thinking of a charter form of government is because it is “the only from of government where the voters control the rules under which the government operates,” he said.

The major processes of the government are controlled by the Maryland General Assembly when it comes to the county commissioner form of government.

“The commissioners have ... some local control. But essentially, the major issues are handled in the [Maryland General Assembly],” Tervala said.

Under code home rule, the county governing body establishes the rules, he said.

Mackintosh said building a coalition was important to push the issue.

“The point that I learned through the process ... it will require the entire community to come together ... about wanting to change the form of government to charter,” he said.

Charter triggers

Jeanne Bilanin, associate director at the Institute for Governmental Service and Research at the University of Maryland in College Park, said that under charter rule, a county council can pass legislation just like the U.S. Congress while a county executive locally might do what the president does nationally.

Under some charters, a county executive might have the power to veto some types of local legislation, Bilanin said in an interview.

“Generally speaking, a county is often motivated to go in for home rule if there is growth and increasing demand for services,” she said.

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