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December 8, 2010

Historic Changes in Carroll County

Kevin E. Dayhoff

On Monday, Carroll County’s first five-member Board of Commissioners took the oath of office: Robin Frazier, Haven Shoemaker, Dave Rous, Richard Rothschild, and Doug Howard.


All are Republicans. Only Ms. Frazier has served in the commissioners’ office before, for one term, 1998 to 2002.


After a long and stormy commissioner election campaign, it took only 15 minutes for history to be made as the 59th Board of Carroll County Commissioners was sworn into office.


It will be interesting to see how well this county government functions with five instead of three commissioners. Are five heads better than three?


Taxes, waste-to-energy, the airport, police protection, and the economy are some of the many leftovers the new commissioners will find on their plates.


For dessert, the commissioners have available the preservation of the business of agriculture and increasing employment in Carroll County so that the 62% of the work force doesn’t need to leave the county every work day in the pursuit of meaningful employment.


Barrels of ink and antacid have been spilled on the discussions over the five-district, five-commissioner form of government along with hand wringing, gnashing of teeth, food-fights of kindergarten proportions and close encounters of the third grade.


The idea was first publicly floated as far back as 1967 before a failed attempt in a 1998 referendum.


The 1998 initiative came after years of whispers of discontent in the hallways of power and concerns that President Jimmy Carter may have been needed to oversee the elections; or perhaps the county needed to be placed under a United Nations protectorate.


Just recently, the politics got one Twinkie away from postal as the outgoing Board of Commissioners held the community Christmas tree hostage until last Sunday when the incoming board rescued Christmas – and the tree. The threshold of my amazement was moved once again.


Mark Twain once wrote: “the only difference between fiction and nonfiction is that fiction should be completely believable.”


This is not the first time citizens in Carroll County have changed our form of government – and chances are it will not be the last.


Of course, when the first Carroll County Board of Commissioners met at the Union Meeting House on Church Street on January 27, 1837; there were nine county commissioners.


On January 19, 1837, our county was formed to facilitate local citizens having local control over our destiny and quality of life. For the last 173 years we’ve been working on it.


In Carroll County, change is not an easy thing. It requires at least one wooden stake and several medieval curses.


From 1695 to 1837, the eastern half of Carroll County was governed by Baltimore County. From 1695, Prince George's County governed the western portion of Carroll County until 1748, when Frederick County was formed.


As early as 1785, citizens petitioned Maryland Gov. William Paca to form "Paca County" from parts of Frederick and Baltimore counties.


And in the Nov. 25, 1813, issue of the "Engine of Freedom," a newspaper in "The Forks" (later to be known as Uniontown), it was noted that a petition was being forwarded to the Maryland General Assembly to form "Union County," with the county seat in Uniontown. Both petitions were rejected.


On March 2, 1833, a bill passed the General Assembly authorizing a vote on the issue of forming Carroll County in October. The vote failed, 593 to 554, although it was later speculated that it failed because of voter irregularities in the Baltimore County portion.


Finally, a bill was introduced in 1835 and passed the General Assembly on March 25, 1836, to form Carroll County.


This act was confirmed on Jan. 19, 1837. It only took about 50 years, but Carroll countians had finally changed their own government.


From 1837-51 the governing body of Carroll County was called the "Levy Court." It consisted of nine individuals; one from each of the nine existing election districts in Carroll at the time. They were appointed by the governor of Maryland.


The Maryland Constitution of 1851 changed the "Levy Court" to the "Commissioners of Tax" and from 1853 to 1891, there were three at-large commissioners elected to two-year terms.


From 1893 to 1921, according to Charles W. Albert's excellent reference book, "Carroll County Election Results 1837-2000," the county elected one commissioner every other year for a six-year term.


After another transition, in 1926, "the county went to electing three commissioners for four-year terms."


In 1968, voters in Carroll County rejected both charter government and code home rule. In 1984, code home rule was defeated. In 1992, charter government was defeated at the ballot box.


In 1998, voters rejected a referendum to increase the Board of Commissioners to five at-large members and rejected a charter form of government.


Then on Dec. 8, 1999, Delegate Don Elliott (R., 4-B) brought the five-commissioner idea back up at a joint meeting of the county's state delegation and the commissioners.


Carroll voters decided on November 2, 2004, to approve a referendum to form a five-commissioner board elected by district rather than having three commissioners elected at large.


But wait, it took another four-years – until Monday, April 7, 2008, before the Maryland General Assembly approved Senate Bill 675 on Option 1 to draw the boundaries of the five commissioner districts among the eight municipalities, 36 election precincts and 14 election districts in the county.


For over 36 years, Carroll countians have deliberated, debated, and voted on the form of government. Perhaps, by now, we should be ‘getting it’ that the voters have an interest in change.


Carroll countians “have discussed” a change in government for years now and we have finally made a decision to change it. Now, let’s get on with it. Let’s make it work. We all have much work to do.


…I’m just saying…


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