Caro­line Com­mis­sion­ers votes against larger board

Times-Record - - Front Page - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

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.

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