Research Guides

Researching Maryland Local Law

Local government in Maryland consists of the 23 counties and Baltimore City. The county structure can be traced back to earliest Maryland history with St. Mary's County having been founded in 1637 and the majority of the other counties organized before the Revolution. Baltimore City, its charter dating back to 1797, was originally a municipal corporation in Baltimore County. Under the Constitution of 1851, Baltimore City became a separate entity and the Constitution of 1867 established the current framework of its government.

I. Forms of County Government

A. Commission

Prior to 1948, all county governments followed the commission form. Now, however, only 10 of the 23 counties are organized under this type of government: Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Garrett, St. Mary's, Somerset, and Washington.

1. Constitutional and Statutory Basis:

a. Maryland Constitution, art. VII, 1 - establishes the authority of a commission form of government with the General Assembly given full power to legislate for these counties.

b. Maryland Annotated Code, art. 25 - sets out the general power and limitations of the Commission form of government.

2. Powers of Commission: Legislative and executive powers are granted directly by the General Assembly to the elected Board of Commissioners. The Board decides by a majority vote and acts as a corporate entity.

3. County Statutory Compilation: Laws affecting commission counties can be found in individual codifications of the public local laws. These are laws passed by the General Assembly and which affect one or more of the counties. They are usually worded in broad terms leaving the details to the county commissioners. Local ordinances and resolutions adopted by the Board of Commissioners are usually published in code form. For an up to date listing of these codes, consult the Maryland County Publications Checklist.

B. Home Rule

Under this form of local government, the state transfers legislative power in local matters to the county. However, if a law is to apply to all counties or to more than one home rule county, the General Assembly acts. There are two forms of home rule for counties: charter and code.

1. Charter - conversion to the charter home rule form of government was made possible by a 1915 constitutional amendment and a 1918 statute. Montgomery County was the first to take advantage of home rule when it adopted a charter form of government in 1947. Charter counties now include Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, Talbot, and Wicomico.

a. Constitutional and Statutory Basis:

i. Maryland Constitution, art. XI-A (Local Legislation of the Constitution of Maryland) grants the authority to adopt a charter home rule form of government.

ii. Maryland Annotated Code, art. 25A - describes the powers and limitations of the charter county government.

b. Powers of a Home Rule Charter County: Under the Express Powers Act, the General Assembly grants home rule charter counties some independence and permits them to pass legislation which affects only the county in question. At the same time, the General Assembly retains legislative power in areas such as control of public education. In addition, no local law can conflict with a public general law or the Constitution of Maryland.

c. County Statutory Compilation: Each county approves a Charter when it votes to have a home rule charter form of government. The charter contains the rights and duties of the county and spells out the governmental structure. The ordinances and resolutions passed by the Council deal basically with administrative matters and are codified. Both the charter and "code" are usually published in the same volume. For an up to date listing, consult the Maryland County Publications Checklist.

d. Structure of Government: Charter counties have two variations on governmental structure: Council/Executive and Council/Manager.

i. Council/Executive: Administrative responsibilities lie with an elected official, the county executive. The executive prepares the budget and makes administrative appointments subject to Council confirmation. Legislative and policy-making powers rest with the elected county council. It enacts legislation and establishes programs and policies to be carried out by the County Executive.

ii. Council/Manager: Both legislative and executive powers are vested in the elected County Council. The County Manager is appointed by them to shoulder as much or as little of the executive workload as the Council allows. Talbot and Wicomico counties follow this form of local government.

2. Code - This third type of county government is a combination of the charter and commission forms. A 1966 amendment to the state Constitution and an additional article to the Code made adoption of code home rule possible. Under this form, there is no charter, but the counties have the power to amend, repeal, or pass local laws. Allegany, Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne's and Worcester counties follow the code home rule form of government.

a. Constitutional and Statutory Basis

i. Maryland Constitution, art. XI-F (Rule for Code Counties). The process for acquiring home rule code status is set forth in this Article.

ii. Maryland Code, art. 25B (Home Rule for Code Counties) defines and limits the powers and duties of code counties and provides the procedure for a return to prior form of government.

b. Powers of a Home Rule Code County: Code counties are a combination of charter and commission forms of local government. Code counties do not have a charter, but they can act on local legislation. Unlike charter counties, however, the code counties still have the General Assembly passing some public local laws for their jurisdiction. The commissioners have both executive and legislative powers under local law.

c. Code County Statutory Compilation: Article 25B provides for the annual publication of all local laws enacted, amended, or repealed by the code county during the year. Public local laws and ordinances/resolutions are usually published in a "code" volume. The Maryland County Publications Checklist contains a listing of these materials.

d. Structure of Government: There is no specific government structure listed for code counties with the exception of the naming of the governing body "commissioners." The county codes may provide for a "pure commission," "commission elected executive," "commission manager," or a "commission administrator."

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II. Baltimore City

The city of Baltimore is an independent political and geographic subdivision which differs from the counties and municipal corporations in its constitutional and legal framework. It is an incorporated city with both a city charter and a home rule charter, giving Baltimore a broad political power base. Baltimore was first incorporated in 1796 as a municipality within the boundaries of Baltimore County. In 1851 it broke away from the county and has acted as an independent unit since. Under the Constitution of 1867, the governmental structure of the city was established with only the General Assembly authorized to make changes.

A. Constitutional and Statutory Basis

1. Baltimore City Charter, art. II - contains the express powers of the City government and provides detailed information on the structure of the government.

2. Maryland Constitution, art. XI-A - charter home rule amendment granted Baltimore City the authority to amend or enact its charter. This power was first used in 1918. Charters were revised in 1945, 1964 and 1994.

B. Powers of the City Government

1. Can issue general obligation debt.

2. General Assembly cannot enact local laws for Baltimore City if the city's Charter has granted it jurisdiction.

3. Has been given special zoning powers to attract commercial enterprises.

C. City Statutory Compilations

1. Baltimore City Charter, 1994 revision; with amendments to July 31,1996. Baltimore, MD: Baltimore (City) Dept. of legislative Reference, 1996.

2. Code of Public Local Laws of Baltimore City (art. 4 of the Code of Public Local Laws of Maryland). 1980 ed. and 1997 cumulative supplement. Edited and published by the Department of Legislative Reference. Baltimore, MD: 1980.

3. Baltimore City Code, 1976: vol. 1, Articles 1-31. Baltimore, MD: Department of Legislative Reference, 1983 replacement volume with 1995 cumulative supplement/1998 interim supplement. Volume 2 of this Code has been replaced with The BOCA National Building Code, which is a code of "model building regulations for the protection of public health, safety and welfare" that is published every three years by the Building Officials & Code Administrators International, Inc. Local amendments are also published by the Baltimore City Legislative Reference as the Baltimore City Building Code. Both BOCA and the local amendments must be used together.

4. Ordinances and Resolutions of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore...1797-

D. Structure of Baltimore City Government:

Baltimore City has a strong form of government with both the Mayor and Council elected. The mayor appoints many boards and departments and is responsible for their overall supervision. The Council is the legislative arm of the city and it is responsible for the passage of city ordinances.

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III. Other Forms of Local Government

A. Municipal Corporations

Under art. XI-E of the Maryland Constitution, all municipal corporations are entitled to home rule authority. The General Assembly can pass legislation affecting these political subdivisions, but the laws must affect all municipal corporations alike.

1. Constitutional and Statutory Basis:

a. Art. XI-E of the Maryland Constitution grants municipalities home-rule status.
b. Art. 23A of the Maryland Code - sets out the powers given to the municipal corporations.
c. Art. 23B - The Municipal Corporation Charter Act of 1955 gives a model for municipal charters.
d. Provisions covering zoning, taxation, annexation, transportation, and bond issues are located in other Articles of the Code and can be located through the general index.

2. Statutory Compilation: a. Municipal Charters of Maryland. Compiled by the State Department of Legislative Reference. Annapolis, MD: 1990 - (loose-leaf) [KFM 1631.5.A73M8 1990]

B. Inter-County Agencies

1. Baltimore Metropolitan Council - Created in 1992 as a regional planning agency. It replaced the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments and serves as a tool to promote cooperation among local governments in the Baltimore area. Web:

2. Maryland Lower Eastern Shore Tourism Center and Advisory Committee - Advises the Department of Business and Economic Development on the develpment and operations of the Tourism Center. This Committee was created by Chapter 716 of the Acts of 1984.

3. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission - This commission was created by Chapter 448 of the Acts of 1927 and has jurisdiction over parks and planning in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. It is also responsible for the general development plan of the Maryland Regional District. Statutory authority is in art. 28, 1-101 et seq. of the Maryland Annotated Code. The Commission consists of 10 members, five from Montgomery County and five from Prince George's County. Web:

4. Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority - Established in 1980 by Chapter 871 of the Acts of 1980 to coordinate efforts to provide waste disposal facilities. Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, and Montgomery County are members of this Authority. Web:

5. Regional Education Service Agency of Appalachian Maryland - Works to raise the educational level of residents in Allegany, Garrett and Washington Counties.

6. Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland - This council began as a cooperative planning and development agency on December 6, 1964. Chapter 586 of the Acts of 1966 established it as a Council. Under Chapter 373 of the Acts of 1984, the Council was given the powers of an independent agency. Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's Counties are members of the Council. There are 29 representatives who are responsible for economic development, tourism, environmental projects, and regional resource management. Article 20 of the Maryland Annotated Code provides the statutory authority for this government entity. Web:

7. Tri-County Council of Western Maryland - Originally known as the Governor's Council for Appalachian Maryland (1968), this council became an independent agency in 1986 with the passage of Chapter 861. The Council consists of 27 members from Allegany, Garrett, and Washington Counties who have the responsibilities similar to those of the Southern Council. It is also responsible for the General Development Plan for the area. Statutory authority can be found in Article 20A of the Maryland Annotated Code. Web:

8. Upper Potomac River Commission - Created in 1935 by Chapter 409 of the Acts of 1935 to supervise the Savage River Dam in Garrett County. Membership consists of one member each from Garrett and Allegany County with the chair being appointed by the Governor.

9. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission - This Commission was created under Chapter 122 of the Acts of 1918. It consists of six members and is responsible for the maintenance of the water supply and sewage disposal systems in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. The Commission is mandated to operate sewage disposal plants, waste water plants and to set customer rates. Statutes controlling this Commission can be found in Article 29 of the Maryland Annotated Code. Web:

10. Washington Suburban Transit Commission - Created in 1965 by Chapter 870, of the Acts of 1965) to administer the Washington Suburban Transit Commission. Jurisdiction includes Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.

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City of Baltimore Municipal Handbook. Baltimore, MD: Department of Legislative Reference, 1990. Current version:

Maryland County Publications Checklist. Baltimore, MD: Law Library Association of Maryland, 1999. This is a comprehensive bibliography of published sources for Baltimore City and Maryland counties arranged by jurisdiction. Included are general codes, zoning regulations, building codes, model codes and standards, other specialized codes as adopted by the jurisdiction, and superseded compilations. Also noted are publication dates, costs, contacts, telephone numbers, and holding libraries.

Maryland Local Government: Structure and Services. Annapolis, MD: Department of Legislative Reference, 1998. [Vol. VI of the Legislative Handbook series]

Maryland Manual 1996-1997: A Guide to Maryland Government. Annapolis, MD: State Archives, 1996. (Biennial) Most current version is online at:

Understanding Maryland Government. 2nd rev. ed. Annapolis, MD: Educational Consultants in the Humanities, 1990.

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