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January 30, 2007

Charter Me A Government

Farrell Keough

I was sitting around with some old friends, drinking a couple of beers and discussing politics – something we are wont to do on occasion. After discussing the big issues we wondered what Hillary’s “conversation” in Iowa would be? I mean, she does seem to know cattle futures, but what about corn and John Deere?

I have read a number of articles recently on the issue of changing Frederick County’s form of government from commissioner to charter. George, who is generally less talkative than the others, noted that “Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”1

Sometimes George can bring the whole group down with his dour statements, but fortunately, we had had at least two mugs and everyone was ready to say their piece. Jim brought us back onto topic by stating “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” 2

Okay, okay, we all agreed that none of us were angels, (although Ben did indicate he felt he was a bit above the average Joe). But what was the real advantage of changing the current form of government? What existing problems were there that this would be necessary? No one seemed to be able to answer those two basic questions.

Currently, Montgomery County has this form of government, but they also have nearly five times the number of residents.

Was this an issue of political clout? Do residents of Frederick County feel like pipsqueaks in Annapolis?

It sounds as if some of our politicians, (and even political writers) have that belief. But is that enough reason to change our current form of government?

Would roads be built faster?

Would new industries be enticed into coming to our area?

None of these types of issues seem to come into the mix. The primary reason seems to be one of less restriction on taxation.

Ben, never one to hold back when issues of taxation arise, quipped: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury.” 3

Having conceded we are well into that era of growth as a country, (and we have not disappeared from the face of the earth), Ben backed down a bit, but P.J. came to his rescue: “When politics are used to allocate resources, the resources all end up being allocated to politics.” 4

One argument I have heard is that with a charter government, one person would come up with the ideas and some sort of board, (yet to be addressed on size and composition) would work out the details and forward any new legislation. This may be quicker, but, of course, it does give quite a bit of power to a single individual.

Tom jumped into the fray stating: “An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.” 5

Not a problem, noted P.J. “Politicians are always interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.” 6

This may speed up the process in which new ideas are forwarded, but when one ruminates on the most recent idea for a tax increase, (a “nominal fee on divorce papers – you know, those documents signed by two people paying exorbitant fees to lawyers and others and generally having to use up all their own personal assets) one must wonder if speeding up the process of government taxation would lead to a better life for Frederick County residents.

Woody noted that “Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.” 7

P.J. chimed in again, saying “There are just two rules of governance in a free society: Mind your own business. Keep your hands off.” 8

Another point opponents of this change have made is the possible increase in salaries of our current representatives. I, for one, believe many of our current representatives are in fact underpaid. I have seen the number of hours some of these folks put in to make sure all voices are heard and it is mind-boggling.

But that can be accomplished without a change in government. County commissioner salaries have already increased 50 percent this year, and this required no change in the form of government.

This proposed change in county government has the possible side-effect of separating the people from the actions of their own representative’s. By empowering a few with more ability to change, the average person does not have the time to keep up on every nuance, (remember that “Big Red Road” – I haven’t heard the status of that for ages?) and get a large enough outcry to force a change in course.

Jim stated it more succinctly: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” 9

Some political groups are talking about the need to get this process moving, while others are talking about moving with a slow and deliberative process. Both seem to want a public outcry for this change. I have not seen the latter occurring, and I would not count myself among that group.

But hey, buy the next round, and we can talk about it.


Notes: I do not actually have beers with these men, although I would really like to. Maybe once my medication is finalized, I will stop thinking I am talking with these people, so let’s hope the doctors move slowly.

1 George Washington, first President of the United States.

2 James Madison, fourth President of the United States.

3 Benjamin Franklin, never a president of the United States, but one of the Founding Fathers and rather amazing individual.

4 P.J. [Patrick Jake] O’Rourke, another person who was not, (and does not seem to want to be) President of the United States. But, a noted journalist and author.

5 Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States and one of the Founding Fathers, (also a rather amazing person).

6 P.J. [Patrick Jake] O’Rourke.

7 Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth President of the United States.

8 P.J. [Patrick Jake] O’Rourke.

9 James Madison, fourth President of the United States.

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