Mayors revive talk of charter Municipal leaders say they have heard call for change

Idea defeated in 1992

Hope is for better relations between county and Annapolis

April 25, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Frustrated by unchecked growth, power struggles between the county's Board of Commissioners and its State House delegation, and deadlocks in local decision-making, Carroll's eight mayors have a startling alternative -- charter government.

The municipal leaders, who say they've heard increasing speculation about reviving the charter proposal that was last defeated by a nearly 2-to-1 vote in 1992, will present the option today at their quarterly meeting with the commissioners.

If enacted, Carroll would join Howard, Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties with an elected county executive and council. The commission form of government puts Carroll County at a disadvantage among neighboring counties, which have "a single elected leader, where we have three," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher Nevin.

"It is no news story that the commissioners are not functioning well as a team and not getting along with the legislature," Mr. Nevin said. "We are out there and we have been hearing charter for months. The people want a single elected executive, accountable to the electorate. They want local ordinances passed here."

Even discussing charter government should send the commissioners a message, said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., who has clashed frequently with the three-member board.

"We are running a county by committee," Mr. Gullo said. "As mayors, we can testify how good charter works. In municipalities, we are already under charter and can make laws without running through a bunch of hoops."

One chief executive, responsible to a council representing established districts would mean consistency and efficiency, said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.

"The way it is now with three commissioners, we end with a 2-1 vote on everything," Mr. Herman said. "We are not saying the commissioners are not doing a good job. We are saying charter is more efficient government."

Charter government would eliminate the tension, particularly evident this year, between the county and its Annapolis delegation.

Manchester Mayor Elmer Lippy, a former county commissioner, calls the dependence on the delegation humiliating.

"The county commissioners hate to go hat in hand to the delegation to get anything done," Mr. Lippy said. "Even tiny Manchester can get its own bonds passed. In Carroll County, we have to go through the legislature and hope nobody has indigestion that day."

Although charter government has been defeated twice since 1984, Mr. Lippy said its time has arrived.

"It is just a question of selling it to the people," Mr. Lippy said. "Events of the last legislative session will sell charter to a lot of people."

This year, the delegation denied the commissioners' request for a referendum on a transfer tax to fund farm preservation; rejected a special tax district to help Lineboro with its sewer problems; and passed a controversial bill allowing some farmland development, regardless of whether nearby schools, road and other services are adequate.

Mayor Herman said he gives charter "a 50-50 chance" of winning countywide, and better odds in South Carroll and Mount Airy, where the 1992 referendum passed.

Although Mount Airy Mayor Gerald Johnson, president of the Carroll chapter of the Maryland Municipal League, said he will support his colleagues, he is unsure if charter government would end the county's leadership problems.

"Other charter counties have become expensive bureaucracies," Mr. Johnson said. "I would be more comfortable with expanding the number of commissioners to five and raising salaries to attract stronger candidates."

If charter is to be on the 1998 ballot, the commissioners would have to appoint a committee of at least five members, who would have 18 months to write a charter. Without an appointment from the commissioners, a petition for charter, signed by 10,000 of the 70,607 registered voters, would be required. The last time the issue was on the ballot, Carroll had about 56,000 registered voters.

Supporters say they could easily garner enough signatures to force the issue on the ballot.

"We are going to have charter," Mr. Yowan said. "With each vote we get a little closer. It is just a question of when."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who served on the 1992 charter committee two years before he was elected, said he is willing to talk about reviving the issue.

"I am willing to appoint another committee, if enough people ask for it," Mr. Yates said.

Mr. Yates said he thinks the last referendum failed because voters feared charter government would cost more to operate.

"You would have an executive and probably five council members working full time," he said. "They would have to have offices and staffs, too."

But supporters such as Mr. Herman said higher salaries could benefit the county, drawing "sharp, vital candidates" to county government.

"You would have more people willing to run, if the salary was better," he said.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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