Carroll group backing charter government is successful, delivers 4,855 signatures Petitions sent to Board of Elections for verification

March 27, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

It took six months and about 500 volunteer hours, but Carroll County Citizens for Charter Government collected 4,855 signatures and delivered them yesterday to the County Commissioners.

The commissioners have 30 days to appoint a charter-writing board. The commissioners could have legally appointed the board yesterday, but they chose to forward the signatures to the county Board of Elections for verification.

"These names were collected in shopping malls, and I want to know for certain they are all Carroll County people," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said. "I don't want people from Hanover and Cockeysville telling us we have to have charter."

Each line of the paginated petitions has a dated signature, printed name and an address.

Charter supporters met the legal requirement -- the support of 5 percent of the county's 76,000 registered voters -- to require the commissioners to appoint a charter board. Supporters collected 1,000 additional names as a cushion.

The commissioners can appoint a panel of five, seven or nine members. The panel will have 18 months to write a document outlining a new form of government: an executive and a county council, likely to have five members.

The charter group offered the commissioners a list of 24 residents for the panel.

"Obviously, these are people who want to see charter happen," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, whose name is on the list. "We think these people can write the best document possible. You owe it to the people to appoint the best possible board."

Nevin and Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman have led the charter drive. Naming supporters to the panel would expedite the process, Herman said. The panel, he said, can use the failed 1992 charter as a reference.

"We would hope for like-minded people on the panel, so it should not take too long," Herman said. "We know what elements made the 1992 charter bad, but we could use the existing document and clear away the problem areas."

Dell promised to appoint a few charter opponents to the board.

"The effort is sabotaged if all the appointees are proponents," Dell said. "After all, some citizens are opposed, and they should have a say."

Lloyd Helt, a charter supporter, compared Dell's theory to "putting a wolf in the hen house. That is what they did last time to kill charter."

Once written, the charter question could appear on a special ballot or possibly on the November 1998 ballot.

Of the three commissioners, W. Benjamin Brown is the only one who favors charter.

Dell said one executive will be less accessible to the public than three commissioners. He and Commissioner Richard T. Yates call charter too expensive.

"Once you have an executive and council and their staffs, you are talking expense," said Yates, who served on the 1992 charter board.

To counter objections over cost, Herman is developing comparison charts. Paying one executive salary, instead of three commissioners $32,500 annually, is an immediate savings, he said.

"Right now, Carroll County has the second-highest government costs in the state," Herman said. "Charter will be much more efficient."

The petition drive had volunteers working weekends throughout the county. The drive began in earnest in September. With signatures valid for six months, supporters worked under a March deadline.

Winter weather and a lack of indoor sites stalled the campaign, but it gathered speed again, with about 2,000 signatures collected in the past three weeks.

"People love an underdog," Nevin said.

Herman attributed the last-minute success to a slap at the effort by state Del. Joseph Getty, a Carroll Republican.

"Getty called the charter movement anemic, and we all got serious," Herman said.

The legislative delegation is pushing a bill that would expand the number of County Commissioners to five. If that bill passes, it would go to referendum, possibly on the same ballot as the charter issue.

Herman said that with charter, "The county could write its own laws and would not be so dependent on the legislature. We would have a clear leadership with one person leading the county."

Concerned about leadership and dissatisfied with the county's legislative delegation, the mayors reopened the charter issue last spring. The commissioners could have appointed the board then, but they insisted on a petition drive to gauge voter interest.

Educating the public about charter government is the next step for the volunteers. They are scheduling meetings with service clubs, business groups and community organizations.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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