Dissent slows charter effort Board pressured to delay writing, some members say

'We can't get a consensus'

Gullo, Ballard give League of Women Voters status report

October 23, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Political pressure and dissension among members of the Carroll County Charter Board could stall the effort to change local government from three commissioners to an elected executive and council.

The board is feeling tremendous political pressure to delay the writing process, said members Ann Ballard and Jack A. Gullo Jr. They also acknowledge contention on the nine-member panel, which expects to finish writing the charter in December.

Gullo and Ballard spoke openly about the county's latest charter effort with the League of Women Voters on Tuesday. About 50 people attended the meeting at Westminster Senior Center.

The County Commissioners must publish the document twice within 30 days of its delivery. Then they have 90 days to schedule a special election -- at a cost of $106,000 -- unless a general election falls within the time frame.

"People may want to run for office next year, but they want to know what to run for," said Ballard, who is also a member of the county school board. "They are putting tremendous pressure on us."

A delay would place the issue on the November ballot, where opponents hope charter would be lost on a long list of referendums.

"We hear 'you have to avoid a special election' from so many," said Gullo, mayor of New Windsor. "I don't mind regular lobbying, but we are feeling a lot of pressure."

Ballard does not quibble with spending $106,000 for a new government. Gullo avoids talking costs. Harping on money is "how you defeat charter politically," he said.

"We are actually writing a declaration of independence for the county, trying to be as specific as possible," Gullo said.

Until the writing process is complete, neither is calling for a special election.

"Our job is to write, not look at election costs or political consequences," Gullo said.

But, he added, "If we are done in December, it is unconscionable to wait until November to vote."

The county legislative delegation has approved a referendum to expand the present commissioner board to five members and place it on the same ballot with charter.

"Who wants five at that salary and all elected at large?" Ballard asked. "The delegation added it to clutter the charter issue. They put it there to defeat charter."

The league's Carroll chapter has long favored a change to charter and initiated a failed 1992 referendum.

"Charter allows for maximum voter involvement and helps to maintain as much local control over local government as possible," said Rosemary Hanger, co-president of the Carroll chapter.

The league has remained in the background during the latest initiative, but promises to take a more active role educating the public and organizing voter forums.

"We are getting ourselves up to date so we can play the educational role," Hanger said. "In the forums, we will explain the pros and cons. With that information, people can make up their own minds."

About 18 months ago, the county's eight mayors asked the County Commissioners to appoint a charter-writing board. The commissioners refused until supporters collected signatures from nearly 5,000 residents proving voter interest in the issue.

The all-volunteer board, appointed in June, is meeting weekly and has 18 months to write the charter.

Members have settled several key issues. They have decided on an elected executive, instead of one appointed by the county council.

"An appointed executive gives voters no control over who is appointed," Ballard said. "He would not be responsible to the voters but to the five council members who appointed him."

Members have eliminated a tax ceiling, which Ballard said "would really tie the hands of our leaders."

But Gullo and Ballard acknowledge much dissension among the members.

"It is slow-going and often we can't get a consensus," Ballard said.

William Sraver, who served on the 1992 charter board and has attended recent charter meetings, said the tension is palpable.

"Four people were appointed to sabotage charter," Sraver said. "If you sit in on the meetings, you will know who they are. They have argued for smoke screens that would kill charter. It is disconcerting to those who want to see a good charter written, so the people of Carroll County have an opportunity to vote."

Most of those attending the league meeting appeared to favor charter.

"We are talking to the converted," Hanger said. "The people we really need to talk to are not at the meeting."

Once the population reaches about 150,000 -- Carroll is about 148,000 -- charter becomes the more effective form of government, Hanger said.

"At some point, charter will happen in Carroll County but maybe not next year," she said.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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