Petition drive for charter nears finish Organizers press for government change to executive, council

'Now we can take off'

Final effort tries to build a cushion in required signatures

March 21, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Citizens for Charter Government is concentrating its petition drive in the Westminster area as it makes one final effort to gather signatures this weekend.

With 3,890 signatures collected since September, the group has the required minimum -- 5 percent of the 76,001 voters registered in Carroll County -- to force the County Commissioners to appoint a charter-writing board.

"This is the beginning," said Hampstead Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "Now we can take off."

The group, which has collected more than 1,000 signatures during the past few weeks, wants a 10 percent margin against duplicates or errors.

It will deliver the petitions to the commissioners Wednesday, only days before many of the signatures would become invalid. Signatures are dated and valid only for six months.

"We are above the minimum, so now it is a matter of putting up a cushion," said Dan Hughes, volunteer coordinator. "The bigger cushion we get, the better. We still want as many people as possible to sign up."

This weekend, with collection sites at three locations in Westminster, charter supporters hope to "get some breathing room," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher Nevin, who has led the drive with Herman.

A month ago, Nevin described the outlook for a successful petition drive as bleak.

However, within a few weeks, the number of signers jumped by more than 1,000 names.

"Instead of 20 or 30 signatures, we have 500 people asking us where to sign," Nevin said.

Herman praised the grass-roots effort that has brought charter to the forefront.

"Individuals who wanted to see a change are bringing this about," he said. "A lot of people just decided that this was a good idea and they pulled this all together."

Once appointed, the board would have 18 months to write a charter or it could amend the 1992 charter, which failed at the polls. The issue could appear on the November 1998 ballot.

If charter succeeds, Carroll government would change from three commissioners to an executive and a county council.

"Last spring, the commissioners said, 'Show us the signatures' and now we have done that," Nevin said. "The linchpin in the process is who writes the charter."

The charter group will recommend 10 residents for the board, although the commissioners may appoint anyone they choose.

"The commissioners owe the citizens the best possible board that will write the best possible charter," Nevin said.

The period for writing the document would give supporters time to educate voters on the advantages of charter government, one that would not rely on the legislature to write its laws.

"I thought most people knew what charter is, but I was wrong," Hughes said. "Once I explained it, most people were more than happy to sign."

Several volunteers are scheduling speaking engagements with area service clubs and community groups.

Charter could become a popular topic of conversation, Herman said.

"It is government for and by the people, and it brings government much closer to home," he said.

In the meantime, the county legislative delegation is working on its plan for changing local government. Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Republican, has sponsored a bill that would expand the board of commissioners from three to five members.

The measure has passed the House of Delegates, but has had no hearing in the Senate.

If Elliott's bill passes, the proposal could appear on the same ballot as the charter initiative.

Charter supporters view the expansion bill as a way to confuse voters on the issues.

"It is an obvious attempt to thwart the charter movement," Hughes said. "The delegation has a vested interest in keeping the commissioner form of government. With charter, their power is diluted."

Last weekend, volunteers worked on the campaign in Mount Airy, Hampstead and Westminster and found the county seat their most productive area.

"Westminster has been great, giving us fantastic numbers," Hughes said. In Westminster, volunteers will have petitions available: From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. !! tomorrow at Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers' Market, Crossroads Square Shopping Center, Route 140.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday at the Giant Food store, Cranberry Square, Route 140.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday at CVS Pharmacy, 400 Englar Road.

Information: 410-795-1159.

Pub Date: 3/21/97

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