Fearing bigger government, voters defeat charter ELECTION '92

November 05, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Carroll County voters who helped defeat the proposed charter Tuesday said they feared it would create a larger, more expensive government.

The measure was defeated 62 percent to 38 percent.

"I'm leery about what it would bring," said Vicki Wagner, 32, a housewife who voted at North Carroll High School. "I just like it the way it is."

Her husband, Royce, whose family has farmed in Carroll for 150 years, agreed and lamented the number of farms that have become housing developments.

Charter "would make the county grow too fast," said a man voting at Mount Airy Middle School.

"Carroll County is supposed to be nice and small and prim and proper," said the man, a 17-year county resident who would not give his name.

The proposed charter would have replaced the current commissioner form of government with an appointed administrator and a five-member council elected by districts.

The charter, which included a tax cap, would have given the county home rule and would have allowed voters to petition almost any law to referendum.

Unofficial vote totals showed that 29,481 people voted against the charter and that 18,020 voted for it.

The measure won in only two of the county's 35 precincts -- at Sykesville Middle and Mount Airy Middle.

Eighty-nine percent of the people who voted Tuesday marked a ballot for or against charter, which was the last question on the Carroll ballot.

"People didn't want it," said V. Lanny Harchenhorn, a Westminster attorney and member of the board that wrote the charter. The former state legislator voted against the board's final draft of the charter in September and urged voters to reject it.

"Our commissioner system has worked very well with the checks and balances of the locally elected legislative delegation," he said.

Richard T. Yates of Eldersburg, also a charter board member who voted against the document, said, "I guess there's a lot of older people who just don't want a change. What's the old adage? If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Three specifics of the charter probably also influenced voters against the measure, he said. They were an appointed executive instead of an elected one, no specified salary for the executive and no term limits on council members, he said.

Voters who supported the measure said the county is ready for home rule.

"We need something other than Annapolis deciding Carroll County's future," said Dan Rudy, 37, who voted at North Carroll High.

"The county's changing and growing and needs more local control," said Charles Lewis, 40, who voted at Westminster Elementary.

Supporters were fighting three groups -- people opposed to change, people who believed the change would cost more, and people swayed by a TV and radio advertising campaign that warned Carroll could lose money for emergency services, said William Sraver Jr., a member of the Committee for Charter Government.

By the time the ads began airing on Oct. 27, charter supporters had spent all their money, he said.

"That did us in because we did not have the money to counterattack," Mr. Sraver said.

The ads were paid for by a coalition called Citizens Against Restricting Essential Services.

Much of the coalition's money came from the Maryland State Teachers Association, said Kathleen Lyons, communications director for the association.

Carroll teachers announced their opposition to the charter in mid-October.

The charter would not have meant an end to county funding for police, fire and emergency services, supporters said.

Mr. Sraver said yesterday that he expects charter supporters to regroup and try to get a charter on the ballot again.

"We are not disbanding. We do not intend to let it drop," he said.

State law does not specify how long supporters must wait before asking the commissioners to appoint a board to write another charter, said Elizabeth Nilson, assistant attorney general for the state elections board.

Supporter Gary W. Bauer said one of the biggest factors in the defeat was that the committee did not have enough time to educate voters about the document, which was finished in early September.

"We needed a good six months," the Hampstead councilman said.

Supporters needed time and money to mail more information about the charter to all residents, Mr. Bauer said.

The charter measure might have fared better in a special election when it might have been the only issue on the ballot, he said.

Supporters probably won't start another charter drive soon because it was "a monumental effort," Mr. Bauer said.

Carroll might be ready for charter government when the county is three times the size it is now, Mr. Yates said. For now, residents still are able to contact the three county commissioners when they need to, he said.

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