Charter petition is revived 2,000 signatures needed by end of next month

1998 ballot is target

Executive, council would replace commissioners

February 14, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Supporters of charter government are reviving their sagging petition drive, hoping to gather about 2,000 signatures by the end of next month.

The next few weeks are critical to getting a proposal to change Carroll's government from a three-member board of commissioners to an executive-county council system on the ballot next year.

Hampstead Mayor Christopher Nevin, who with Mayor Jonathan Herman of Sykesville, has led the effort, said he will not predict success.

"I am cautious," Nevin said. "We will have a better idea at the end of next week on how much we will continue with the effort."

The goal of 4,000 signatures represents 5 percent of the county's registered voters and a few hundred extra names to serve as a buffer against duplicates or errors.

Armed with those numbers, the Carroll County Citizens for Charter Government could force the County Commissioners to appoint a board that would write a charter calling for government county executive and council. The commissioners declined to take any action on charter last year until a petition drive gauged voter interest.

"We could really use the support of the communities," said Dan Hughes, volunteer coordinator for the citizens group.

Signatures are valid for six months, and many of those collected are from September. If the drive takes much longer, volunteers would have to contact the original signers.

"We have to finish in six weeks or we will start working against ourselves," Hughes said.

Meanwhile, a bill sponsored by Del. Donald B. Elliott, a New Windsor Republican, would allow voters to decide whether to expand the board of county commissioners from three to five seats.

Winter weather made most outdoor petition collection sites -- nearly all in South Carroll -- unusable for charter supporters. Many indoor areas that draw crowds were off limits to petition gatherers. Volunteers were barred from Cranberry Mall in Westminster and local library branches because the charter campaign was considered politically controversial. In the past few weeks, volunteers have located a few sites where they hope to complete the drive.

"We are a lot more optimistic now that we have lined up places," Hughes said.

Most of the recent effort has centered on South Carroll, so volunteers are targeting Westminster and North Carroll. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow, volunteers with petitions and answers to questions on charter will be at the Westminster Wal-Mart and Kmart stores.

"We are obviously concentrating on the most populated areas," Hughes said. "But we will do our best to get to the outlying areas, too."

Petitions will be available at the Winter Family Indoor Carnival, which opens at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 and runs all day Feb. 22 at Carroll County Agriculture Center. Volunteers also will set up a table at the annual Hampstead Business Fair from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 22.

Copies of the petition are available at all eight town halls.

"If people are ready for a change in government, now is the time and this is the way to do it," Hughes said.

If the petition drive is successful, it is just the initial hurdle, Nevin said. Much work will remain for volunteers. The charter board would have 18 months to write a charter. Then the issue would go to referendum, possibly on the 1998 ballot.

"People really need to understand the entire charter process," Nevin said. "There is a lot of education involved, and that means manpower, time and effort for those involved in charter."

& Information: 795-1159.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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