Caroline Commissioners votes against larger board
DENTON — The Caroline County Board of Commissioners will not expand from three members to five, the current board unanimously agreed at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 29.
The vote brought to an end a discussion — for the current board at least — that has popped up periodically in the county since 1998, when a straw poll was first conducted to gauge public opinion, and most recently in August, when the commissioners held a public listening session.
At the end of the public listening session, commissioners said they would consider putting a binding straw poll on the 2018 election ballot, and act on the results.
The process turned out to be more complicated and timeconsuming than imagined.
Only non-binding straw polls can appear on a ballot. Instead, commissioners would have to first pass a local legislative bill expanding the board, but write it so it only went into effect after a referendum on the 2018 ballot. If the referendum passed, the two additional seats would be added in 2020.
But the board would have to wait again to set staggered terms for the five commissioners, a move which has to be approved by the state legislature, and one current commissioners agreed would be a must if the board expanded to five.
“Staggered terms are absolutely a requirement if we move to five,” said President Wilbur Levengood.
At the meeting Nov. 29, Commissioner Larry Porter worried the county had not yet done enough to gather public input, particularly since the commissioners had brought up the idea of putting a binding straw poll on the 2018 ballot, even though that had turned out to not be possible.
“That’s my biggest dilemma — I don’t want to look like we’re going back on something we said,” Porter said.
But Vice President Dan Franklin said he thought the county had already heard from most people who had an opinion on the subject, whether they spoke at the August listening session or approached one of the commissioners individually, and it was time for the commissioners to make a decision.
“I would say 95 percent of the people (I’ve spoken to) are against (expanding), and only 5 percent are for it,” Franklin said. “I don’t see how expanding will benefit citizens. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
At the August listening session, those opposed to the expansion said it would reduce the county government’s efficiency as more opinions are argued and considered, and cost too much money, due to an increase in salaries, health benefits and pensions.
Those in favor said five commissioners will be able to further split up the obligations of the office among the members, have more robust debates and represent more citizens.
Porter said he had not heard a convincing argument for expanding to five members, but he was still concerned the county needed to gather more input first.
Chief of Staff Sara Visintainer said most of the people in Caroline County who are deeply interested in the debate were aware of and attended the August listening session.
“I don’t know how much time the average person spends thinking about it,” Visintainer said.
Bob Chapel, a Ridgely resident who attends many of the commissioners’ meetings, said he thought the commissioners had done enough to get the public’s thoughts.
“You need to make the decision, because you’re the only ones who really know what’s involved (with the job),” Chapel said.
The commissioners decided they had no interest in expanding to five members.
“Just to expand the board is fairly straightforward,” Levengood said. “If there’s a new board (after the election) in two years, they can consider it again if they want.”
They also decided to withdraw a legislative request for a bill that would have allowed Caroline County commissioners to serve staggered terms, as they agreed that would not be necessary for three members.
At the end of the meeting, the commissioners voted on officers for 2017. As of Jan. 1, Franklin will be president and Porter will be vice president.