Just what is this "charter thing" awaiting voters on Tuesday's primary election ballot?
Supporters and foes of charter don't agree on much, but both sides voiced concern last week that Carroll citizens might be puzzled about what they'll be voting on.
Moreover, any confusion surrounding the Carroll charter movement promises to be exacerbated when voters get a look at the 17-name thicket of charter board candidates on the ballot.
So activists on both sides of the charter issue were working to spread a similar messagelast week: Tuesday's vote is to pick people to write a charter, not a vote on whether Carroll should have charter government.
The latter vote will come after the board members are elected and the writingof a proposed county charter is complete.
"It seems amazing to methat people might not have grasped that," said Walter Bay, co-chairman of the nine-member board the county commissioners appointed last fall.
"There seems to be some real confusion about that."
From whence came all the confusion?
Several controversial developments -- petitions, counter petitions, a Circuit Court suit and partisan political scrapping -- have cropped up in recent months, diverting attention from the
basic charge of the board.
The distractions have left many citizens not knowing what a charter is, said Gary Bauer, a Hampstead Town Council member who's participated in phone drives to raise awareness about the charter movement.
"Some people who signedthe petition (to form the board) don't even know what we're talking about," the councilman said.
So what is a charter? It's a sort of constitution, a document that would change the basic form of government in Carroll.
One alternative is a county council and a county executive, but there are other forms.
Advocates say charter government is advantageous because it increases decision-making powers at thecounty level and improves responsiveness to problems as Carroll grows.
Currently, the commissioners must get county laws passed through the General Assembly.
Opponents argue that charter government iscostly and creates more bureaucracy.
They say the commissioner form still works well for Carroll.
Last year, a group of charter advocates collected enough signatures to require the commissioners to appoint a board to write a charter.
The board -- five Democrats and four Republicans -- began work last December with the goal of having a charter ready for citizens to consider in the November election.
Another group -- all Republican -- was dissatisfied with the commissioners' appointments and started their own petition.
Enough signatures were gathered to force the appointed board members to defend their seats.
Of the eight challengers, most say they believe voters, not the commissioners, should choose the charter board.
"This is an issue of representation," said Joe Getty, a challenger.
Yet somehave criticized the challengers as charter opponents looking to derail the charter movement by way of the election, a charge Getty and other challengers deny.
Adding to the confusion that may linger Tuesday is the actual ballot.
The 17 names will be mixed together alphabetically, with no indication of political party and no distinction between commissioner-appointed nominees and challengers, a configuration prescribed by the state constitution.
Only eight people are challeng ing the nine-member board, so at least one appointed member will be retained.
If the current board members all prevail, the primary impact will be that some time working on the charter will have been lost while awaiting the election outcome.
Similarly, a revised board dominated by current members probably wouldn't create much of an impediment to progress, Bay said.
"The charter board is ready tostart writing after the election," he said.
The picture could be fuzzier if all eight challengers prevail or gain a majority on the board. Some challengers say they are open-minded about charter government, while others openly oppose the idea.
During a forum Wednesday in Hampstead, challenge candidate E. Scott Hollenbeck, a Sykesville resident, characterized a change from commissioner government as a "power grab."
"Don't give up the power, people," he said at the forumat North Carroll High School. "Once the government has it, they'll never give it back."
However, Getty says the impact of an overhauled board would be minimal.
"The public is likely to see a very similar document no matter who writes it," he said.
2 COUNTY CHARTER BOARD SLATES
Walter C. Bay, D
Jon Buck, R
Charles W. Cull, R
Charles O. Fisher Sr., D
Damian L. Halstad, D
C. William Knill, R
Barbara S. F. Pease, D
Louis Gregory Pecoraro, D
Neal W. Powell, R
John P. Buchheister Jr.
Donald C. Frazier
Joseph M. Getty
Sandra M. Gover
J. Norman Graham
V. Lanny Harchenhorn
E. Scott Hollenbeck
Richard T. Yates
CARROLL COUNTY SUN GRAPHIC Confusion still exists on charter vote
PROPONENTS, FOES AGREE ELECTION ONLY TO CHOOSE PEOPLE TO WRITE DOCUMENT