Board To Draft Governing Charter

Committee Charged With Writing Constitution For County Government

November 06, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Members of the nine-person board poised to undertake the first full-fledged effort to replace Carroll's commissioner government with a charter say they enter the process with open minds.

"It's open to discussion," said Greg Pecoraro, 32, appointed to the charter board by the county commissioners last week. "I want to be proactive and really try to seek out the thoughts of important constituent groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau and PTA councils.

"We've got the job of writing this," said Pecoraro, the Carroll Democratic Central Committee chairman. "We want to find out what the people want first. It really should be the people's charter."

The commissioners appointed the board, as required by law, after the Committee for Charter Government last month collected and presented more than 3,000 signatures on a petition from registered voters. The board has up to one year from the time of its appointment to draft a charter, which will serve as the constitution for the county, similar to documents on the municipal, state and federal levels.

But before theboard begins its work, citizens have 60 days to nominate up to nine additional members if they are dissatisfied with the appointments.

A nominee must present signatures from 3 percent, or about 1,700, ofthe registered voters. In that case, a special election would be scheduled.

The charter -- which will outline the structure, powers, duties and limitations of the county's government -- most likely will be decided by referendum in a special 1993 election, said Charles O. Fisher Sr., committee chairman and a charter board appointee.

He said this effort to change the county's form of government will be more comprehensive than several previous drives. Charter government -- the system used in the four other metropolitan counties -- typically involves an executive and a council but can take other forms.

In 1984, two of the three county commissioners voted to place a code home rule referendum on the ballot, which was defeated by a 2-to-1 margin.Code home rule provides the county governing body with more limited powers than a charter but more authority than a commissioner form.

In the late 1960s, a committee was appointed to study charter government, but a constitution was not written, said Fisher. Voters rejected the concept.

The board includes representatives from the agricultural and business communities, two attorneys, a state treasury worker and a city manager. It consists of five Democrats and four Republicans, ranging in age from 30 to 74. Five live in Westminster, and one each in Mount Airy, Taneytown, Sykesville and Finksburg. Five are active members of the charter committee.

Only one woman -- Barbara S.F. Pease, a Carroll Chamber of Commerce board member -- is on the charter board.

"I think it's an excellent group," said Jon R. Buck, a Sykesville engineer and former Republican candidate for commissioner. "We have all walks of life. Nobody has any ax to grind. I think we'll all go in with an open, constructive attitude."

Committee member C. William Knill of Mount Airy, outgoing Farm Bureau president, said he's entering discussions with "no preconceived notions that one form is better than another."

Several board members said they support a change to charter government to increase decision-making powers at the county level and improve responsiveness to problems as Carroll's growth continues.

Currently, the commissioners must have countylaws passed through the General Assembly, and Carroll legislators sometimes reject the commissioners' requests.

"I'm not out beating the drums for charter government, but something's wrong when local elected officials can't pass their own legislation, so charter seems theway to go," said board member Neal W. Powell, 70, Taneytown's city manager.

Opponents have argued that charter government is costly and creates more bureaucracy. They say Carroll's commission still workswell and is accessible to the public. Many view charter government as appropriate to settings more urban than Carroll.

"Nobody has anyax to grind."

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