Time is right for charter government Carroll County: Petition drive launched, education effort necessary to persuade public.

July 18, 1996

THE DRIVE TO establish charter government in Carroll County is taking a lot longer than was expected a couple of months ago when the mayors of the eight municipalities united in a rare demand to the county commissioners for action.

Hopes for drafting a document and placing it on the November ballot have disappeared. The initial vocal enthusiasm seemed to subside after the commissioners said "No" and declined to become involved. And there's been a reluctance to assume strong leadership for the petition effort to force the commissioners to appoint a charter drafting committee.

The mayors as a whole did not want to spearhead the signature drive, compromising their municipal duties. The League of Women Voters expressed interest in the campaign, but not for a speedy referendum this fall. The political saber-rattling of South Carroll activists over runaway growth seemed tied to the charter movement, which gave some early charter advocates second thoughts.

A freshly drafted petition is now circulating and collecting signatures, directed by a coalition of Carroll residents that includes several mayors and veterans of the 1992 charter drive that failed by a 3-to-2 referendum margin. The group should easily gather the 3,500 or so signatures necessary. Then it will be up to the commissioners to appoint a charter committee.

Charter government would be a decided improvement for Carroll County today. It would increase county government autonomy and focus accountability, while placing the county on equal footing with its metropolitan area neighbors that have home rule.

The effort has a better chance for success with voters this time if the education process can be maximized and previous stumbling blocks are removed. In 1992, the proposed charter awkwardly called for a county executive chosen by a county council, rather than directly elected by voters. There was a tax-ceiling measure attached to it. And the issue was buried in a crowded presidential election ballot.

Proponents of charter government have to explain to citizens why change is needed, and why an executive and council are more cost-effective and business-friendly than the commissioner system. But slowly and surely, Carroll is getting ready to take the charter flight.

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