Mayors want league to aid charter plan Town officials to ask women voters group to lead petition drive

3,550 signatures needed

Nonpartisan effort expected to boost chance of success

June 21, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The men who revived the idea of charter government in Carroll County have decided to leave the rest of the work to the League of Women Voters.

The county's eight mayors renewed the charter movement when they unanimously asked the County Commissioners last month to appoint a charter committee. The commissioners declined the request, 2-1, saying a petition drive would more accurately reflect public sentiment for charter.

Signatures from 5 percent of the 71,000 registered voters would keep the charter issue alive, but the work involved probably ends any possibility that voters would see the issue on the November ballot.

The mayors will ask the league to handle the drive and help educate the public.

"We accomplished what we wanted to do and got the idea of charter to the public," said Mount Airy Mayor Gerald R. Johnson, chairman of the county chapter of the Maryland Municipal League. "We just don't have the manpower to do a petition. We are not backing off."

The mayors as a group will not be taking the lead on the issue, but "some of us plan an active role," Hampstead Mayor TC Christopher M. Nevin said.

"There was never any intent that all of us would lead this charge," Nevin said. "This is just a matter of some of us getting to various groups."

Nevin hopes he is not the only one knocking on doors and asking for signatures, he said. He also would like each town hall to provide petitions to residents.

"This thing has a real chance of passing," Nevin said. "The more broad-based and bipartisan the effort, the better the chance will be."

The mayors met in Westminster yesterday to discuss the next course of action. Matthew H. Candland, Sykesville town manager, said the group "feels just as strongly as ever that it is important to bring charter to voters, but now they want to involve others in the process."

A combination of full-time jobs and municipal duties leaves few mayors with time to organize a petition drive, much less educate the voting populace.

Gathering about 3,550 signatures would not be difficult, just time-consuming, said Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy.

"Most of us have full platters," Lippy said. "We don't have time to run from carnival to carnival with a card table, and the league has offered to support the charter cause."

The 65-member league is "probably best equipped to handle the petition drive," said Johnson. "Once a charter committee is established, they would be the ones to carry the ball."

A charter government would replace the three-member board of commissioners with an executive and a County Council and give the county more autonomy in the law-making process.

"It is not the mayors' job to push for a change in county government," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. "Our job is to govern our towns. We fulfilled our obligation by bringing the charter question into the spotlight. Now the job should go to parties who can focus solely on the issue."

Years ago, the Carroll chapter of the national women voter league decided charter was the ideal form of government for the county.

"We have a position in favor of charter," said Cheri Jenkins, league president until three weeks ago and now a board member. "We are definitely behind charter and glad others decided to reopen the issue."

The league, which provides nonpartisan information on political issues and candidates, opposes placing charter on the Nov. 5 ballot, she said.

"The league is good at educating the public, but there is no way to educate them enough to get charter passed in so short a time," Jenkins said. "It would not be in our favor to push this through so quickly. Most people would only hear the 'too expensive' message that defeated charter last time."

Supporters estimate a special election would cost the county about $35,000.

"Even if the financing were our obligation, we would have enough contributors from both parties to support the effort," Lippy said.

In 1992, voters turned down a charter proposal, 29,481 to 18,020.

"Many people don't know enough about charter to decide," Gullo said. "Civic groups are more attuned to educating and finding out the wishes of the public. They can present the facts, with the merits both pro and con."

Charter supporters probably would amend the defeated charter proposal, which called for a council-appointed executive, with a provision for an elected executive.

"We are getting a lot of good feedback and getting people who are really interested," said Neil M. Ridgely, Hampstead town manager. "The mayors fed the charter movement. Now, we want to keep charter alive and get the petition going."

Pub Date: 6/21/96

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