Bid renewed for charter government 45 sign petition at Liberty High

3,460 more needed

'Don't see how it can lose'

Eight mayors prefer county council over current structure

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

A petition that would force the County Commissioners to appoint a charter committee has 45 signatures, gathered Thursday at a meeting of Solutions for a Better South Carroll.

Members of the community activist group are confident of success, even though they must collect 3,460 more signatures from registered voters over the next six months before the commissioners will take action on the renewed charter effort.

"I have no doubt that we will far exceed that number," said Carolyn Fairbank, a Solutions member and volunteer on the 1992 Citizens for Charter committee.

Thursday's was the first of several meetings to educate voters on charter government. The group hopes to bring the issue to referendum and, if successful, change the county from a commissioner form of government. The group has the support of eight local mayors and state Del. Ellen L. Willis, a Carroll Democrat who has consistently favored a change to charter government.

"We can't push too fast, but we need to head toward charter," Willis said.

Two mayors and a member of the 1992 charter board led the discussion, attended by about 60 people at Liberty High School in Eldersburg.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, a restoration contractor, compared the commissioner government to an aging building.

"Carroll County government is ready for renovation," Herman said. "The structure is outdated and deteriorated. The movement to charter is both important and necessary."

A charter would mean more autonomy for the county, which now must rely on the state legislature to enact its laws. Proponents favor an elected executive and a regionally elected county council.

Three months ago, the mayors reopened the charter issue with the commissioners.

"It is unusual to get eight mayors from every section of the county agreeing that we should take a look at charter," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin. "Jonathan and I have been the most vocal and are willing to help move the process forward."

The commissioners denied the mayors' request to appoint a charter board, favoring a petition as a more accurate gauge of public opinion.

Gains vs. costs

The county needs one person leading it in one direction, Nevin HTC argued. The surrounding charter counties are all examples of more effective government with more viable economic development, he said. Nevin deflected arguments that charter government would be more expensive, saying that one executive would not cost much more than three.

"The executive would be running a $150 million business and deserves compensation," Nevin said. "The type of government you would get would justify any added cost."

History of charter efforts

William Sraver, a member of the 1992 charter board, gave a brief history of local charter efforts.

"I think Carroll County is ripe and ready for charter," he said. "At least with charter, Carroll County people are the ones voting on local issues and not representatives from other counties and Baltimore City."

Sraver attributed the charter measure's defeat at the polls four years ago to well-funded opposition, a lack of voter information and placement on a crowded presidential ballot. The measure lost 29,481 to 18,020.

Education a goal

"If we had had enough money and time to educate 5,700 more voters, charter would have been enacted," he said.

Sraver said the National Education Association spent $500,000 to defeat the 1992 proposal because it also called for a tax ceiling, a measure educators feared would hinder education spending.

The Citizens for Charter Government had a $7,000 campaign fund.

Also on the 1992 ballot was a statewide charter question that increased the time allowed for writing a charter to 18 months. The question further confused county voters, Sraver said.

A special election, with a charter the only issue on the ballot, would attract voters who are most interested in it, he said.

Educating residents

Herman called the meeting a good first step. From the comments and questions, he said he could tell people are interested and eager to learn.

"Education will be the hardest part of the process," he said. "But the need for charter is so obvious, I don't see how it can lose."

Each town hall will have copies of the charter petition for registered voters to sign.

Information: 795-2234.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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