HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Feb. 25, 2016)—The Commissioners of St. Mary's County held their fifth of seven planned meetings on moving county government to code home rule Tuesday night but few from the community attended.
The meeting, at the Second District Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad in Valley Lee, had just a few speakers. One was in support of putting the measure on the ballot in November with the aim of giving the local government more autonomy over local public laws, while others asked more questions.
Resident Kyle Davis said he was new to the discussion but had heard that commissioners were dissatisfied with something related to state government.
"What's the source of this dissatisfaction?" Davis asked.
Leaders told him about last year's debacle of not even being able to get a committee vote on a personal property tax exemption in Annapolis and that fact that the state delegation would only be able to put in six local bills this year instead of the 18 bills the commissioners wanted.
These were the reasons for more autonomy for county government, said Commissioner Tom Jarboe.
But the tone of the meeting, said Commissioner Todd Morgan in a later interview, showed that the public was apparently showing little interest in changing county government, even if only slightly.
"The commissioners have worked very hard on this through town hall meetings and through the media but the public doesn't seem to be paying much attention," Morgan told The County Times.
The proposal to move to code home rule, which would keep the commissioner form of government but give it more control over local laws instead of having to get state approval to change them, came from the commissioner board and not from a grassroots citizen movement.
There was a move about eight years ago to see whether citizens wanted to move to charter government, a much greater change to local independence, but it was rejected by voters.
Jarboe acknowledged that while some have showed support for allowing the local government to move faster, but not everyone agrees.
"Some people have said that they like the slow and deliberate process," Jarboe said at Tuesday's meeting.
There was also some confusion about what the commissioners could do with the county's police and corrections element if voters chose to switch to code home rule.
Commissioners were quick to say that they could not change the sheriff's office from being the primary law enforcement agency.
Code home rule does allow the commissioners to establish a corrections department and a warden for the jail but, as Commissioner John O'Connor said, there was "no ambition" by anyone on the board to remove the detention center operations from the sheriff's office.
"There'd be no impact on local law enforcement," O'Connor said.
Commissioner President James "Randy" Guy said that commissioners had yet to decide whether they would vote to put the measure on the ballot come November, but it depended on public input.
For more local news, visit the St. Mary's County Times online.