Town halls unsuccessful at drawing voters to sign charter initiative petition 3,500 signatures needed

8 sites get less than 50

August 25, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The drive to place a charter government initiative before Carroll County voters has stalled.

Petitions placed at the county's eight town halls nearly a month ago have garnered less than 50 signatures, far from the 3,500 needed from registered voters to force the County Commissioners to appoint a charter committee.

In May, the county's eight mayors asked the commissioners to revisit charter, which failed at the polls four years ago. The commissioners refused to take any action until a petition gauged voter interest.

If the charter drive succeeds, the issue could be placed on the ballot as early as next year. If voters approve, Carroll's form of government will change from three commissioners to a county executive and council.

The two mayors leading the charter effort attribute the dearth of signatures to summer doldrums. They are planning a concerted effort next month.

"The effort has not fizzled," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "It just hasn't really gotten started."

At the Sykesville Town House, signers have filled one petition sheet: 14 signatures.

"I don't think many people know about this drive," said Matthew H. Candland, town manager. "It is important to make a strong effort to educate the public. Once people know, there will be strong opinions on both sides of the issue."

Herman and Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin have scheduled an information session on charter government Sept. 17 in Mount Airy, the first of what they hope will be several such meetings.

Nevin said gathering signatures is a matter of making the petition more accessible to voters.

"It is going to take knocking on doors and working at shopping centers," said Nevin. "I never anticipated we would get 3,500 signatures at town halls."

In Hampstead, the staff placed the petitions in a prominent spot, hoping to attract signers. The town leads other municipalities with two pages of signatures, a total 28 names.

"Somebody is going to have to go out and get them," said Neil Ridgely, Hampstead town manager. "You have to make it easy hTC for people."

The numbers are abysmal at other municipal offices. New Windsor and Union Bridge report no signers. Manchester just made the petition available Thursday. Mount Airy and Taneytown each have three signatures.

"Not that many people stop in and when they do, they are in a hurry," said Nina Smeak, Taneytown office assistant.

Members of the Westminster City Council are circulating pages of the petition in their neighborhoods. So far, only one person has signed at city hall.

"Organization has been sketchy, but we know there is a lot of concern out there," Herman said. "That is what is important, not how many people are showing up at town halls."

Carolyn Fairbank, a community activist, organized a charter session for South Carroll voters in July. Signers filled three petition pages that night and Fairbank has received about a dozen inquiries since the meeting.

Like the mayors, though, she has not had time to gather more signatures or organize more sessions. "We had hoped someone would make similar presentations all around the county every few weeks," she said.

Charter supporters need a leader, but so far that person has eluded them, she said.

"If someone doesn't organize and get this going, it won't happen," she said.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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