CPR for charter movement Public losing chance to cast a future vote on a different form of government.

March 03, 1997

ARE CITIZENS of Carroll County saying that charter government is an idea whose time has come -- and passed?

After the heady launching last summer of a petition drive demanding home charter rule, with the strong backing of the county's eight mayors, the movement has fizzled. Petition organizers have collected barely 2,500 signatures, with a required minimum of 3,800.

The minimum is only 5 percent of the registered voters, not a high hurdle, and the petition only calls for drafting a charter that would still have to be approved by voters in an election.

Even so, there is no visible momentum for the drive and leaders expect to end their efforts in four weeks, when several hundred of the already collected signatures will be invalid, because they will be six months old.

The early spring weather gives supporters a last gasp chance to reach the goal through aggressive outdoor canvassing, but prospects are not encouraging.

And even if the final effort gained enough names, the county commissioners would see it as a weak expression of public interest and probably do little to promote the drafting of an acceptable charter. (They earlier rejected a request by the mayors to appoint a drafting committee without requiring a petition.)

Several conditions helped to thwart the petition drive, including lack of shopping center locations. But the biggest barriers were lack of vigorous leadership or much grassroots enthusiasm. Either one would have carried the day, and forced the commissioners to take heed.

The need persists for greater public education on the virtues of charter for a growing suburban county. There is still incipient interest that has not been cultivated and developed by charter promoters. More work needs to be done in that area, before asking citizens to sign up for something they do not fully understand.

The sound rejection of charter government by Carroll voters in 1992 still has a dispiriting effect on its proponents. That, too, must be overcome by further dialogue and development of a better charter proposal.

Unless there is an informed, forceful request from the electorate for this fundamental change from commissioner government, charter rule remains just a passing fancy.

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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