Charter campaign is far from goal Proponents need about 3,500 signatures to create committee

September 20, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Charter government is gaining support in Carroll County, but advocates remain a long way from obtaining the nearly 3,700 signatures needed to create a charter-writing committee.

After meetings in Mount Airy and Westminster this week, 30 residents signed petitions, bringing the total to about 200 -- far from the number needed.

"I have favored charter for some time as a more orderly way to make decisions," said Frances C. Nyce of Westminster, a recent signer. "It is important to have a written way to conduct county business."

Proponents must secure signatures from 5 percent of the 73,313 registered voters before the County Commissioners will appoint a board to write a charter.

Charter, which would mean having a county executive and council and less dependence on the state legislature, has found its way into "Neighborhood Conservation/Smart Growth," an initiative from Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The report says, "Home rule more readily allows a jurisdiction to address problems of growth and neighborhood revitalization."

"I imagine the governor heard a lot of flak over that statement," said County Commissioner Richard T. Yates. "Local people have to decide about charter."

The statement should not be interpreted as a directive from his administration, the governor wrote in a Sept. 12 letter to Yates. The initiative is a compilation of ideas that could improve the economic climate, preserve farmland and forests and support existing neighborhoods, Yates said.

Although supporters say the charter movement is gaining momentum in Carroll, a leader and more volunteers are needed.

"A lot of people are willing to listen to what charter is and then sign up," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin.

Only three people responded to Nevin's call for volunteers to run a charter booth at Westminster Fall Fest.

Since the eight mayors revived the charter issue in the spring, Nevin and Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman have taken the lead. Both have little time to devote to charter.

"Everyone wants to take a back seat; I do, too," said Herman. "I can't carry the torch. I want to spark an interest and give this

thing a life of its own."

The two mayors are trying to organize a central committee, and Herman is planning a countywide meeting in Westminster within a month.

He hopes to "rally the forces" and get charter supporters to elect a chairman, secretary and treasurer. Herman has received many offers of financial support. Any donations would be directed to educating the public, he said.

The League of Women Voters, which has supported charter for years, launched its education effort Tuesday with "Facts about Charter," a forum led by Victor K. Tervala, a consultant with the Institute for Governmental Service.

The idea "is not what is broken here and will home rule fix it," he said to an audience of about 50 people. "Charter should not be used just to get rid of leaders you don't want."

The institute provides independent, objective advice on how to write a charter, said Tervala.

"Local issues should be your business," said Tervala. "Still, from the get-go, you have a political football on your hands."

Manchester Mayor Elmer Lippy asked if a long-standing feud with the local delegation is a reason to change. Before Tervala answered, several in the audience shouted "yes."

Growth issues often cause the most friction between local officials and their delegations, said Tervala. Charter counties "are free to plan and zone as they see fit," he said.

All the metropolitan counties have charter, but rural areas remain cautious about changes in government, and many residents feel charter is too costly.

Since 1973, nine counties -- including Carroll in 1992 -- have tried and failed to change to charter. In Garrett four years ago, the proposal failed 8-to-1.

Five of eight recent attempts to shift to code home rule, another government option, have been successful, most recently in Queen Anne's County. Dorchester County has code on its November ballot.

Code would keep the commissioners in power, but give them more flexibility to enact local laws. Code counties do not have a written charter.

In 1991, Cecil County voters defeated charter by a few hundred votes and a year later, code lost on the ballot. But, Tervala said, supporters in Cecil feel they will be successful this year.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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