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December 27, 2010

Different Forms of Government

Michael Kurtianyk

With their decision December 14 to move forward with appointing a charter board, the Frederick County commissioners followed through on one of their campaign promises.


Last week, the process by which Frederick County will move forward with the charter board was discussed here. This week we’ll look at the different forms of government available in Maryland.


Maryland’s 23 counties (and Baltimore City) are governed in one of three ways: charter, code home rule, or commissioner. All are allowed by the Maryland State Constitution. Here is a breakdown:


Charter: Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Cecil (as of Nov. 2010), Dorchester, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Talbot, and Wicomico.


Code Home Rule: Allegany, Caroline, Charles, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Worchester.


Commissioner: Calvert, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, St. Mary’s, Somerset, and Washington.


No matter which form of government the county creates, there are certain services that are expected to be filled by local governments: general governance; public safety; public works; health; education; community colleges; libraries; recreation and parks; land planning and development; and debt service.


The charter form of government was approved by state voters in 1915 (Article XI-A). In Section 2 of this article, it states:


The General Assembly shall by public general law provide a grant of express powers for such County or Counties as may thereafter form a charter under the provisions of this Article. Such express powers granted to the Counties and the powers heretofore granted to the City of Baltimore, as set forth in Article 4, Section 6, Public Local Laws of Maryland, shall not be enlarged or extended by any charter formed under the provisions of this Article, but such powers may be extended, modified, amended or repealed by the General Assembly (amended by Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978).


This also from the State Constitution: Express Powers of Charter Counties (Article 25A, Annotated Code of Maryland, Section 5)



(a)   Local Legislation;

(b)   County Property and Franchises;

(c) County Institutions;

(d) Advertising and Printing;

(e) Audits and Claims;

(f) Contracts and Bonds; Purchasing through Purchasing Bureau
(g) Drainage;

(h) Election Districts and Precincts;

(i) Court Records;

(j) Health and Nuisances;

(k) Highways, Bridges and Streets;

(1) Livestock;

(m) Fish and Game;

(n) Fences;

(o) Assessments, Levy and Collection of Taxes;

(p) Bonds or Evidences of Indebtedness;

(q) County Officers;

(r) Protection of County Credit;

(s) Amendment of County Charter;

(t) Road, Waste Disposal, Soil Erosion and Building Ordinances;

(u) County Board of Appeals;

(v) Recreation;

(w) Storm Drainage;

(x) Planning and Zoning;

(y) County Board of Health;

(z) Federally Assisted Watershed Projects;

(aa) Commission to Establish Compensation for County Councils;

(bb) Historic and Landmark Zoning and Preservation;

(cc) Waiver of Sovereign Immunity;

(dd) Commercial or Industrial Redevelopment Projects;

(ee) Conditioning Acceptance of Certain Land Development; and

(ff) Commercial District Management Authority.


Code Home Rule was established in 1966 when voters approved Article XI-F of the Constitution of Maryland. In code home rule counties, the commissioners have home-rule powers and may enact legislation. The commissioners can enact, amend, or repeal local laws on many matters. Most powers granted charter counties are also granted to code counties. The General Assembly may still enact public local laws covering an entire class of code counties, but not for just one single code county.


Whatever form Frederick County takes, the charter board will have to communicate with the public every step of the way. There will be opportunities for the public to review the ongoing discussions as they come up, and not wait until the presentation to the Board of County Commissioners, perhaps as late as September 2012, just two months before county voters are expected to vote on the change in government form.


Public discussion and discourse is needed as soon as there are items to be reviewed by the charter writing board.


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