'Runaround' on charter rule claimed Backers say officials fight to keep issue off November ballot

'We won't be thwarted'

Commissioners reject mayors' bid for study

petition drive needed VTC

June 12, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Supporters of charter government say Carroll officials -- including the County Commissioners, the county attorney and the board of elections -- are doing everything possible to keep a charter referendum off the November ballot.

"We are getting the big runaround," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "But we won't be thwarted in our efforts."

Herman and other supporters, who say the county has outgrown the commissioner form of government and needs an executive and county council, are reviving the charter issue, which voters rejected four years ago by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.

Last month, the commissioners refused a request from the county's eight mayors to form a committee to study the issue and write a proposed charter. The move means proponents must complete a petition drive that includes the signatures of 5 percent of Carroll's 71,003 registered voters if they are to achieve a charter referendum in time for the Nov. 5 presidential election.

Herman said he has asked the county elections office for a copy of the 1992 charter proposal and a copy of the original petition, which called for the appointment of a charter committee. Instead of documents, he received only referrals that led to dead ends, he said.

Administrator Rosemary L. McCloskey said the elections board does not have a copy of the charter proposal that appeared on the November 1992 ballot. Instead, she said, the office has a series of draft proposals.

Herman said he eventually received from the Maryland Municipal League the documents he requested and information about placing the charger proposal on the ballot In recent weeks, McCloskey and members of her staff, who are state government employees, have referred all requests for information about charter government to County Attorney George A. Lahey.

Although the elections board retains its own lawyer, Westminster attorney Wesley D. Blakeslee, McCloskey said she referred questions to Lahey's office because the commissioners asked her to.

"It is awkward," she said. "The last thing we want to be is in the middle of anything."

Lahey has declined to answer any questions on the petition process, referring the mayors to their town attorneys.

"I have had a couple of requests on how to do a petition," said Leahy. "I have declined to answer. It is not my position to tell them how. I may have to advise the commissioners on the validity of the petitions."

Lahey said he would answer general questions on the charter process. The proposed 1992 charter, he said, is on file in his office, as are records of the committee meetings that preceded that election. All information is public record, he said.

"This is not a runaround," said Lahey. "The County Commissioners simply declined to appoint a charter board. Now, others will have to start a petition."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who served on the 1992 charter board, said the state constitution offers several options for placing a charter proposal on the ballot.

"It would behoove the towns to have their attorneys look into the process," said Yates. "They should read the law. We are not going to do their job for them."

Herman was able to obtain a petition from the Maryland Municipal League.

"We want to get the petition going as quickly as possible," said Herman. "It appears Carroll County wants to drag out the process."

Charter supporters say it is important to get the charter proposal on the ballot in November to take advantage of the large voter turnout that is expected for the presidential election.

"It is just a matter of getting organized, figuring out what resources there are and putting them together," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher Nevin. "I would like to do the petition as soon as possible, but I am digging up what I can when I can.

"I have no idea when we can start the petition drive," said Nevin. "But, there is a lot of support. The more people I talk to the more they are saying that we should at least check into charter."

Nevin and Herman said they plan to raise the issue at the mayors' quarterly meeting with the commissioners Monday. The charter proposal is also on the agenda of the mayors' monthly workshop June 20.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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