Calvert County voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure Tuesday that would have given the county's five elected commissioners greater authority to adopt local legislation.
The ballot measure proposing to adopt code home rule failed by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. Calvert will retain its county commissioner form of government, which requires the Maryland General Assembly to pass or authorize many of the laws relating to county issues.
"Why would you want to change?" said Tom Kelley, chairman of the Republican Party in Calvert and an opponent of the measure. "If it isn't broken, don't fix it."
Several supporters of code home rule said voters were misled by inaccurate information about the issue distributed by the measure's opponents. Backers of the proposed change said they were particularly upset about hundreds of fliers distributed at polling sites that read, "Vote 'No' on Code Home Rule!!"
The handouts, which did not identify who printed or distributed them, suggested the county commissioners wanted code home rule powers because the county's delegation in the General Assembly had twice refused to grant them authority to impose a real estate transfer tax. Under code home rule, the commissioners could impose the tax themselves.
"It should be more difficult, not easier, to tax the citizens," the flier read.
Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) said the board did not push for code home rule because of the transfer tax. But he said opponents had successfully spread "misinformation" about the issue that doomed it at the polls.
"It had been turned into a taxing issue, and people aren't going to vote for it if they perceive it that way," he said.
Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) called the flier "propaganda" because it did not mention that code home rule would allow 10 percent of registered voters to put any commissioner-enacted law up for public referendum.
The commissioners voted 4 to 1 in August to put the measure on the ballot. The dissenter and vocal critic of the measure was Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large), who also is married to the county GOP chief.
Supporters of code home rule were also angered that an employee in the county's information technology office e-mailed letters opposing the measure to hundreds of other county employees.
Joseph Allman, the county administrator, said the incident is under investigation. He said the employee might face disciplinary action if county equipment was misused.
"County employees and County equipment should NOT be treated or used in this manner," he wrote in a Monday e-mail to county staff members. "County employees are more than capable of making their own decision on this issue."
On Tuesday, most voters said they voted against the measure because they worried code home rule would lead to a tax increase.
"I just don't think the county commissioners should have that much power," said Lisa Starr, 40, a secretary who lives in the Chesapeake Ranch Estates.