The invisible charter drive Petition for home-rule government needs canvassing for support.

August 27, 1996

PERHAPS IT IS just the summer doldrums, but the spring enthusiasm for charter government in Carroll County seems to have melted faster than a sno-cone in August. A mere 50 signatures have been collected on petitions at the county's eight town halls over the past month.

That's after the mayors of these municipalities asked the county commissioners in May to set the charter wheel in motion by appointing a committee to draft a document for voter ratification. They acted as a group, saying that many voters in the towns wanted a chance to decide on this basic change in county government.

The commissioners turned them down and told them to file petitions with the required 3,500 signatures. After some hemming and hawing about who should lead the charge for a charter, petitions were placed in town halls last month. There they have withered.

If proponents of charter rule (which would replace the three commissioners with an elected county executive and council) are serious, they have got to get busy -- not just preach to the choir at South Carroll activist meetings.

There was no petition in sight at this month's county 4-H/FFA agricultural fair. Only in Westminster is there door-to-door canvassing, the essence of a petition drive. Organizers say they plan to get out to shopping centers and hold information meetings to mobilize support now that school has resumed.

Of course, the deadline pressure was released when the commissioners said "no" and there was no practical chance to place the question on this November's presidential ballot. A draft charter would not come to a vote until next year at the earliest, maybe not until the 1998 gubernatorial election.

Few people who come into the town hall to complain about a street, pay a fine or apply for a permit are inclined to hang around and sign a petition about changing county government. Summer is admittedly a slow season.

But the charter movement needs an upfront leader to push the drive and explain its purpose. There is much that needs to be done even after a validated petition is presented, so there's no time to waste. The petition drive must not languish. The charter issue is too important. The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la, have nothing to do with the case.

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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