FREDERICK -- Frederick County voters overwhelmingly rejected yesterday a proposed home rule charter that would have abolished the existing commission form of government and replaced it with an executive-county council system.
With 98 percent of the ballots tallied, voters came down against the charter by more than a 3-to-1 margin, with 77 percent opposing the change and 23 percent supporting it.
Charter supporters, some of whom had worked for a year on this effort, were crestfallen by the proposal's severe defeat.
"We're very disappointed," said Betty Floyd, who chaired a grass-roots citizens group that backed the proposed charter. "We thought it would be a lot closer. Many of us who have worked long and hard were not ready for a 3-to-1 defeat."
Patty McGill, a member of the board that drew up the charter, was also surprised by the lopsided defeat. She blamed it on the publicity campaign by charter opponents. "I think the opposition built its case against the charter on unjustified fears," she said.
Another supporter, Robert Kresslein, agreed. "I think people saw this as more government and not better government," he said.
Turnout was close to 30 percent in city precincts, election officials said, slightly higher than the anticipated 20 percent to 25 percent of the county's 63,000 registered voters.
A 12-member charter advisory board, after a series of public hearings over the past year, drew up the proposed home rule charter, which would have allowed voters to elect a council representative from their home district.
Under the existing commissioner system, the top five vote-getters countywide are elected to office.
The charter, had it been approved, would have become law on June 1, 1994.
Past efforts to change the county's system of government, such as a 1984 petition drive, have failed.
Charter supporters had felt that the county's fast-paced growth over the last 10 years would cause voters to see the need for a full-time elected administrator of county government.
Opponents said the change would reduce the work elected officials could do for constituents, since the county employees would be working for the administrative branch.