County gives documents for charter Officials willing to offer materials for petition process

Organizers want reform

Mayors leading effort to seek referendum for government change

June 14, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Complaints that county officials denied information to organizers of a charter government referendum apparently have gotten results.

Yesterday, the county made available copies of blank charter petitions and other documents on the charter referendum process.

"We have no problem giving out copies of the wording for petitions," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "There is no reason for county government not to be fully conversant on the charter. I don't see any reason to avoid questions."

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, a leader in the charter government effort, said earlier this week that when he asked for a copy of a charter proposed in 1992 and other documents, he "got a runaround" from the county elections office and County Attorney George A. Lahey.

Lahey said he had declined to answer questions on the petition process because of a possible conflict. "I may have to advise the commissioners on the validity of the petitions," said Lahey.

Rosemary L. McCloskey, administrator of the board of elections, said yesterday that she and her staff will answer any questions and offer charter proponents any materials needed to expedite the process.

"If I don't have an answer, I will find out," McCloskey said.

Brown said McCloskey "can give out whatever information she knows."

Carroll's eight mayors, dissatisfied with the commissioner form of government and battles with the legislative delegation, have renewed the drive for charter government that would include an elected county executive and council.

In a 2-1 vote, the commissioners declined the mayors' request to appoint a charter board last month. Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates said a petition would be a more accurate guage of charter sentiment.

Proponents must gather signatures from 5 percent of the county's 71,000 registered voters. Certified petitions require the creation of a committee that would write a charter. That committee would be composed of five, seven or nine members, depending on the commissioners' decision. Another petition drive might be held for anyone who wants to serve on the committee, then a final vote for members.

"It would have been much simpler if the commissioners had appointed a charter board, but the simplest things don't always happen here," said Brown, who cast his vote for appointing the board immediately and avoiding a petition drive.

To save time, proponents plan to rework an existing charter, on file in the county attorney's office, and take it to referendum, possibly for the November election.

Revisions to the charter, which failed by a 2-to-1 margin on the 1992 ballot, would probably include positions of an elected executive and council members elected from five county districts.

Four years ago, the commissioners appointed a board at the request of charter proponents. But voters dissatisfied with the appointees successfully petitioned for an election of a charter board. Copies of those petitions also are on file at Lahey's office.

McCloskey's office is not required to have a copy of the failed charter on file.

"The board of elections is not the authority to be custodian of that record," said Jerry L. Toadvine, a former member of the Board of Supervisors of Elections. "The county attorney is the proper authority for that custodianship."

The State Administrative Board of Election Laws also "promises to be more than accommodating in providing information," said Donna Duncan, state administrative officer.

"The state office has a petition form, general information and guidelines on charter adoption process available," she said. "Proponents must also file a charter petition fund report detailing all money collected and spent."

Florence Kersey, who was appointed president of the Carroll County board of elections in March, said she has not received any calls about the charter movement.

The State Administrative Board of Election Laws can be reached at 1-800-222-VOTE.

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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