Voters to determine the shape of county government

September 06, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Let the political jockeying begin.

Carroll residents will be voting Nov. 3 not only to choose federal representatives and register opinions on the abortion issue but also to determine the county government's future.

Overcoming concerns about an ambitious schedule, the Carroll Charter Board presented a proposed charter to the county commissioners Thursday. The board completed its work in time for the charter to be put on the Nov. 3 ballot, saving the county an estimated $50,000 for a special election.

Voters will decide whether to replace the current three-commissioner system with a five-member County Council, elected by district, and an appointed administrator.

They also will decide whether to adopt Carroll's first constitution detailing how government should be structured and conducted. The proposed charter would allow the county council to enact laws without having to go through the General Assembly.

Charter proponents say the commission system is outdated, inefficient and slow to respond to problems caused by rapid growth. Opponents say charter government will create a larger, more contentious bureaucracy and will cost more.

Jon R. Buck, the Charter Board co-chairman who helped organize the grass-roots drive for charter government, said an approved document would signal a "change of the watch" in the county's power structure.

"A lot of 'good ol' boys' who fought against it could be sent a message that Carroll County is for progress," he said.

Signs of political gamesmanship were apparent before the document was presented to the commissioners, said Mr. Buck.

Board members voted 6-2 Wednesday to approve the document. Richard T. Yates and V. Lanny Harchenhorn, who voted against it, and Joseph M. Getty, who abstained from voting Thursday, were elected to the Charter Board on a slate of "conservative" candidates. They supplanted three of the nine-member board appointed by the commissioners.

The citizens' group that supported the slate acknowledged that some members opposed changing the form of county government.

The vote "reinforces the opinion I had from the beginning that they didn't want charter," said Mr. Buck. "They want to make sure they're in position to strongly fight it. I think it was calculated."

Mr. Yates and Mr. Harchenhorn say they entered the process with open minds but disagreed with certain aspects of the charter -- especially the decision to have an appointed administrator rather than an elected county executive. Both say they would offer opinions opposing charter government if they are asked to speak to county organizations.

"I want people to realize I'm on record," said Mr. Yates. "Even though I went in with an open mind to form a good, conservative charter, it didn't come out that way. When I put it on the balance scale, I thought what I voted against outweighed the good parts."

Mr. Getty said that he felt "uncomfortable" voting because he missed the Wednesday night meeting and that his position is "independent."

The Committee for Charter Government will promote the charter. Chairman David Duree said he believes Carroll residents have watched with interest as the year-long process unfolded.

"There's great curiosity and openness to hearing what the document has in it," said Mr. Duree. "In this jaundiced political arena we have now, I find this refreshing."

No opposition groups had registered as of Friday morning, said a Board of Elections supervisor.

The commissioners plan to publish the charter Sept. 13 and 20 in the Carroll County Times.

The Charter Board recommended that the commissioners publish a booklet to give the public basic information about how charter government works. Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he wanted more information about what the booklet would include before considering it.

Charter Board members also revised a tax cap provision Wednesday. The cap would prohibit the council from raising the property tax rate above the percentage increase in the Baltimore Consumer Price Index without at least a four-fifths vote. The cap would not apply to money the county must generate through the tax rate to pay debt on public projects.

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