In appointing a committee to draft a charter, the county commissioners may have started a process that could put them out of work.
Thepush for a change in the way Carroll governs itself -- already almost 24 years old -- gained momentum during 1991, after a group of localbusiness and community leaders presented the commissioners with a petition requesting that a charter be drawn up, discussed and ultimately voted on by county taxpayers.
The nine-member committee, which began its work last month, has about a year to come up with how government would be structured under charter.
Charter government gives counties the right to have a greater say in how money is spent, laws are made and fundamental decisions are carried out, similar to the powers of Carroll's eight towns.
As the only county in the five-county metropolitan area without charter government, Carroll must have most of its laws approved by the General Assembly.
Charter typically involves an executive and council. The charter itself outlines the structure, powers and limitationsof government.
Charles O. Fisher Sr., a Westminster attorney and a major player in the push for charter government, spearheaded the bipartisan Committee for Charter Government petition effort.
He serves on the commissioner-appointed charter board , as do four other members of the Committee for Charter Government. They since have resigned from that committee to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest.
"We intend to write a non-partisan charter -- not a Democratic charter or a Republican charter," Fisher said in early December.
But the issue -- always controversial in a county where many see charter government as an affront to Carroll's rural heritage -- exploded into what some view as a partisan fight as the appointed committee embarked on its effort.
A citizens committee supporting a slate of nine Republican candidates filed a petition with the commissioners' office Dec. 26 containing about 2,600 signatures of county voters. Last Friday, the elections office verified 1,833 registered voters' signatures -- forcing an election March 3, when voters will select among the nine appointed charter board members and their challengers. The elections board certified it had more than the needed 1,660 signatures (3 percent of the county's registered voters) after reviewing 200 of the 239 petition sheets submitted.
Another campaign group -- Citizens for the Commissioners' Charter Board -- has formed and registered with the elections office to support and raise money for the appointed board in its election effort. The appointed board has five Democrats and four Republicans.
Regardless of who ultimately serves on thecharter board, passing a charter in the county has proved difficult in two previous tries. A charter vote in 1968 was defeated 2-1; a modified form of code home rule lost 3-1 in 1984.
A charter would be voted on either next November or in 1993.