Lack of support kills code home rule
Lack of support kills code home rule

County commissioners voted Tuesday not to offer voters the choice to decide whether to change the form of county government to code home rule.

Commissioners President William Manlove surprised his colleagues by voting no, along with Commissioner Brian Lockhart. To get the question on the November ballot, four commissioners would have had to support the measure.

Without time to appoint a charter commission and write a charter government proposal, the county will remain under the commissioner form of government until at least 2010.

Manlove, a charter government advocate in recent years, stunned the rest of the board Tuesday by voting against the measure.

Law requires that four of the five commissioners approve a referendum resolution in order to get it on the ballot.

Commissioner Brian Lockhart has been against the move to put code home rule on the ballot all along.

“I still favor charter government,” Lockhart said Tuesday. “And, I was surprised Bill changed his mind today.”

Manlove said he has given this vote a lot of thought in recent weeks.

“I knew whichever way I voted it would be wrong in someone’s eyes,” he said Tuesday after casting his vote.

But, the lame duck commissioner, said he maintains his opinion that charter is the way to go.

“I’m afraid if we went with code home rule on the ballot it would stall any future efforts to change to charter later,” he said.

“What bothers me the most about this is that I know I disappointed Becky Demmler.”

Commissioner Rebecca Demmler would like to see the county eventually go to charter government, but knowing that it is a lengthy process, she pushed the effort to get code home rule on the ballot this year.

Now, it’s dead.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” Demmler said after Tuesday’s meeting.

“I see code home rule as a step up for Cecil County. Now, there’s no hope for either charter or code home rule until 2010. I was hoping we’d be gaining some power, but unfortunately this isn’t to be.”

The board of commissioners has been frustrated in recent years with its lack of power to enact certain laws and approve new fees and taxes in specific categories without approval of the state lawmakers.

That was the impetus behind a move that started more than a year ago.

The county hired the University of Maryland Institute of Governmental Service to conduct a series of workshops in Cecil County to educate the electorate on the differences between the three forms of county government.

After a final forum in January, the commissioners initially voted to move forward with appointing a charter board to write a charter that could be approved in November.

Concerns they may not have enough time to accomplish their goal, led them to abandon the charter idea for this year.

Later, in another surprise move, they agreed to let voters decide on code home rule this year, which is quicker and easier to implement.

Commissioner Mark Guns, who also prefers charter over code home rule, agreed earlier this year to go along with the rest of the board to let the voters decide on code home rule this November.

“It’s disturbing for me that at the 11th hour, there’s a change in the decision to move forward,” Guns said Tuesday.

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