Petition drive for charter advances Signatures validated, clearing way to form panel to draft plan

April 10, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The petition drive aimed at forcing the appointment of a panel to write a county charter has passed the validation process with signatures to spare.

The Board of County Commissioners has until April 25 to appoint a board to write a charter. If the charter is approved in a referendum vote -- as soon as the November 1998 ballot -- Carroll's government would change from three commissioners to a county executive and council.

The local board of elections took about eight days to review the 4,858 signatures collected during the six months that began in late September. The board informed commissioners late Tuesday that it had ruled invalid 552 signatures -- more than 11 percent of the total. Most of the invalid signatures came from signers who were not registered voters; 95 were duplicates.

Carroll County Citizens for Charter Government had collected more than 1,000 signatures more than the required 5 percent of the 75,946 registered voters and delivered the petitions to commissioners March 26. The group also delivered its list of 24 residents willing to work on the charter draft.

"I hope the commissioners make enough good appointments so that we don't have to go any farther with this," said Dan Hughes, volunteer coordinator for the petition drive.

"This campaign has been a real shot in the arm to the referendum. If everyone puts in the same effort educating the public, we should bring charter successfully to referendum," Hughes said.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said he is ready to appoint the board of nine members. Each commissioner would name three members.

"There is no reason to delay and there would be more time to write a good charter," Brown said. "I am hoping we use good sense and appoint a committee that is acceptable to charter supporters."

Brown wants to avoid a special election for a charter board, which supporters could demand if they were dissatisfied with the commissioners' appointments. A special election, which would require a new petition drive for about 2,000 signatures, could cost about $104,000, Brown said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell has said he intends to appoint a few charter opponents to the panel.

"What is an opponent going to contribute to the process?" Hughes asked. "You don't want a lot of contention on this board."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates preferred to develop his own list. With Dell's approval, Yates drafted an advertisement, which ran in a local newspaper March 29, asking those interested in serving on the board to apply by today.

The county has received 25 applications -- many from those already recommended by the charter group.

Charter was defeated in 1992 by slightly less than a 2-1 margin. Since then, the county has added more than 10,000 voters to its roll.

The increase reflects a significant population growth, with many residents relocating from counties that are governed by charter.

In the meantime, Carroll's General Assembly delegation approved a bill that would expand the number of commissioners from three to five. That issue also will go to referendum, probably on the same ballot as the charter proposal.

Pub Date: 4/10/97

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