Key charter issues to be settled soon Board must decide when to hold election

October 17, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The question of whether Carroll should have a different form of county government is about to get hot again.

A nine-member board appointed to write a charter -- the county version of a constitution for a county executive-county council form of government -- has answered all but two important questions: when to let voters decide the issue and when to convert to the new government if voters call for it. They are expected to address both questions within a month.

Opponents want to delay the vote until the November election next year. Some supporters would like it to be held as early as April. If charter government were approved in April, an election for an executive and county council could be held next fall.

That would be too soon, said County Commissioner Richard T. Yates and state Sen. Larry E. Haines, both of whom oppose charter government for Carroll. If approved next year, charter government should not take effect until 2002, they said.

Without such a transition period, "It's kind of tough to have somebody come in with a whole new staff to run a government that has been running since 1837," Yates said.

Haines, a Republican who is leader of the county's General Assembly delegation, said his chief objection to a separate election is the cost.

Haines said he also objects to having to close schools on Election Day.

A separate election would cost the county $106,000, said Patricia Mastsko, acting director of the county election board.

Although no money is available in her budget for such an election, the commissioners are required by law to hold one within four months of receiving a proposed charter from the board, unless a primary or general election falls within that period, Mastsko said.

Charter supporter John R. Culleton of Sykesville favors a separate election, even though the election board would be required to put another initiative -- a proposal by the county General Assembly delegation to increase the number of county commissioners to five from three -- on the ballot along with it.

"It is generally agreed that a special election will give charter a better chance. In a general election, many people come to vote for a specific candidate and vote 'no' on initiatives because they don't understand them," Culleton said. A special election would eliminate those no votes, he said.

Yates worries that the charter board might force the commissioners to hold a special election. "We're not in a position to blow $106,000," he said. "Why the hurry? There is no national, state or county emergency."

In addition, Yates said, the turnout for a special election probably would be much lower than for the general election, which will include a gubernatorial contest.

"I wouldn't think you would want something as big as changing government to be decided by only a few people," he said.

Haines said some charter supporters have told him they are supporting a change in government "because of the indecision" of the county commissioners. Advocates prefer a special election, he said, because they assume supporters would be more likely than opponents to go to the polls.

Haines said he wouldn't make that assumption. Supporters "don't have the right leadership to bring it about. With the right leadership, [charter government] would pass. The proponents are not in the conservative leadership in Carroll County," he said.

Carroll voters have defeated charter proposals twice, most recently in 1992. Haines predicted that they would continue to do so until the county's population grew to about 180,000 from the current 147,000.

Carmen M. Amedori, chairwoman of the charter board, said she has tried without success to get the members to say whether they want a special election.

Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, charter board vice chairman, said the board needs to come closer to finishing its work before deciding whether to hold a special election.

"The major issues, the ones that caused the greatest debate, have been settled, but there is still a lot to do," Nevin said. The board is working on the "nuts and bolts of government," such as legislative procedures, budget and finance policies, and staff and department head positions that need to be included in the charter, he said.

"We have not had a detailed discussion of how fast we would put this in place if the voters want it," Nevin said. "A lot has to do with how we will progress over the next month and what's the feeling of the majority" about whether to hold a special election.

Mastsko said that if a special election is held, "the earlier the better" because of the "turnaround time needed to get the office in gear" for the September primary and November general election.

Amedori opposes a special election, which she said is more likely to cost $160,000 than $106,000, but said she "will not do anything to stop it."

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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