8 town halls have petition for charter Hampstead's mayor wants liaison in each municipality to help

Localities best 'champion'

5% of voters must sign before issue can go on Carroll Co. ballot

July 19, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Charter petitions are available at all eight town halls in Carroll County and Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin has asked his colleagues to each appoint a representative to help with the signature drive.

The mayors, who held their monthly meeting yesterday in Westminster, received copies of the petition this month. The petitions ask the commissioners to appoint a charter board, which would write a proposal for charter government.

The county's eight municipalities have the best forum for educating the public on charter, said Jonathan S. Herman, Sykesville mayor.

"The county government is scattered," Herman said. "No one can champion the charter cause the way the towns can."

Before the County Commissioners appoint a board to write a charter, proponents need signatures from 5 percent of Carroll's 71,000 registered voters.

Writing the charter would be the next step in the process to place the initiative on the ballot.

Changing from the commissioner form of government, which relies on the General Assembly to enact laws and float bonds, would give Carroll more autonomy, proponents said.

A charter, which would allow the county to enact laws and float bonds, is a logical progression that would make county government more efficient, Herman said.

"One executive officer to oversee the business of government is more capable of clear, efficient action than three," he said. "With a county council elected from different areas, every section of the county would have a representative."

Because the towns operate under charters, they offer the best example of its benefits, Herman said.

The mayors unanimously agreed to reactivate the charter issue, which failed at the ballot in 1992. They all support a referendum, but some mayors are not sure whether charter is the answer to the county's government problems.

"We voted to bring charter to the commissioners' attention and I support finding out what the people want," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. "But, the county is not the same everywhere. Here, in the more rural areas, people are not saying 'charter,' they are saying, 'Get rid of the commissioners.' "

Gullo is unsure whether charter would succeed with voters.

"Charter may not be the best form to go with at this time," he said.

"The idea is to get qualified people who can run the government as a full-time job, but at the same time, you can't pay so much that it becomes a job for the money," he said.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates, a member of the 1992 charter board, said an executive and a five-member county council is a costly endeavor. He predicted the costs of charter government would doom the effort to another failure.

"They say one executive won't cost as much as three," he said.

Charter proponents have proposed a $90,000 executive salary and possibly $10,000 annually for each council member.

"That is not nearly enough to run an office," Yates said.

In more populous Baltimore County, the executive's annual salary is $90,000, Yates noted. Each of the seven council members earns $30,900 annually and has $33,000 to pay for staffs.

Other expenses such as postage, phones and office supplies come from the council's central fund.

Herman and Nevin are confident charter can win voter approval.

"The hardest part is the education process, getting people to understand just what charter means and how it will improve our government," Herman said.

The League of Women Voters, which has long favored charter government, will play a role in the education process, said Naomi Benzil, league president.

Members are planning an information meeting in September in Westminster to explain the steps involved.

If interest warrants, the league will schedule meetings throughout the county.

"People should know what they are voting for, not just from rumor or innuendo," Benzil said.

"Once people are educated," she said, "they can make an informed decision and that has always been the policy of the league."

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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