New push for charter government Increased support detected for dropping commissioner form

Mayors behind change

Voters defeated executive-council proposals twice

April 28, 1996|By Greg Tasker and Mary Gail Hare | Greg Tasker and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Are Carroll County voters ready for charter government?

Support appears to be building for a change to an executive-county council form of government, but twice, in 1968 and 1992, the county has overwhelmingly rejected attempts to replace the county's commissioner form of government.

Charter supporters think the third time could be the charm. Although they failed four years ago, they say support for an executive-county council form of government has increased among voters.

"I think because it was much closer last time, it could pass," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who was a member of a group that drafted the 1992 charter. "I do think that charter government will be more expensive. But this is no longer a part-time job like it was back in the 1950s. The county has quadrupled in population."

Support appears to be building on two fronts. The mayors of the county's eight incorporated towns have revived the charter proposal out of frustration with unchecked growth, power struggles between the commissioners and the State House delegation, and deadlocks in local decision-making.

"This seems an appropriate time to bring it up again," said Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, a longtime charter supporter.

The mayors have asked the county for legal help to find a way to bring the charter issue to voters in the 1998 election. County Attorney George Lahey is expected to provide the mayors with information within a week.

If the charter measure succeeds, Carroll will join Howard, Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties with an elected county executive and council. The commission form of government puts Carroll at a disadvantage among neighboring counties, which have a single elected leader while Carroll has three, the mayors said.

Support also is building among residents who are fed up with congested roads, crowded schools and too much development.

"With all the growth over the past several years, we have a need for home rule," said Deborah Ridgely, a Finksburg resident who supports charter government. "Many years ago, when the county was a rural community, the commissioner form of government was probably better. There wasn't as much of a need for charter.

"Now, with all the growth and other issues, I definitely feel the people of Carroll County should have a say and a voice in what laws are passed and what affects us."

One of the issues that has prompted renewed interest in charter government is Senate Bill 649, which passed the General Assembly and is awaiting the governor's signature. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Republican and real estate agent, would ease the rules for development in Carroll farmland.

Opponents have charged that the measure would open up the county's dwindling agricultural land not only to scattered residential development, but to future changes in zoning laws that could mean commercial and other development.

Measure 'went too far'

"I warned them," said V. Lanny Harchenhorn, a former state delegate. "One of my arguments to the delegation was that I thought they were asking for a revival of charter government. My argument was that they were really delving into an area that was the county commissioners' jurisdiction. [The measure] just went too far."

Dissatisfaction with the Board of County Commissioners is nothing new, Mr. Harchenhorn noted. He said the first attempt at charter government in 1968 stemmed from similar circumstances.

"There was a great deal of frustration with the county commissioners, just like there is now," he said. "The problem in 1968 was that we had two commissioners who disagreed. You could almost count on it. The third commissioner didn't want to make a decision.

"We found in the past that one or two new individuals elected in the next election usually solves the problem."

Mr. Yowan said Mr. Haines' bill is an example of the breakdown in communication between the county and its delegation.

"With charter government, the Haines bill would be a moot point; it would never have come up," he said.

Opponents of charter government cite various reasons for the proposal's failure in 1992. Many think a new form of government would be more expensive. And the county delegation checks and balances the commissioners.

Noting the county's rapid growth and political atmosphere, mayors such as Hampstead's Christopher Nevin believe charter government could pass in 1998.

"Based on what I'm hearing, yes, I think it can win," he said. "We've got mayors from every corner of the county [supporting] this. Seldom do we all agree on one topic. It's one thing we all agree on."

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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