Board nears completion of county charter plan Voters to decide next year on form of government

December 14, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Charter Board is nearly finished writing the document that could change Carroll's government from three commissioners to an executive and council.

The nine-member board put the document through a final edit Thursday and wrote a clause that would provide for a transition government if the voters approved charter in a special election or at the general election Nov. 3.

One issue remains. With two members absent from a meeting Oct. 16, the board voted 4-1, with two abstentions, that any property tax increase enacted under the charter would need the support of at least four of the five county council members.

Every other decision the board has made since it began its task seven months ago has had the support of at least five members.

"Five of us, the majority, should be behind every decision," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., who did not attend the October meeting.

"Two members abstained because they considered it an important issue that required action from the entire board," Gullo said. "That action passed without a majority."

He asked that the tax initiative be rescinded and the issue reconsidered. His motion ended in a 4-4 stalemate. The absence of board Chairwoman Carmen Amedori made it impossible to break the tie. Neal Powell, who originally voted against the measure, voted against Gullo's motion. But, he said later, he will ask the board to reconsider the motion at a meeting Jan. 8.

"It should never be easy to raise taxes," said Powell, a former Taneytown town manager.

After meeting weekly since June, the board delegated the job of writing a charter to Gullo and Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin. The two incorporated the board's decisions on major issues, such as an elected executive, into the document.

"If it passes, the people of Carroll County will live under a good charter," Gullo said. "We will be living under this government that we have written into being."

At the last meeting, "we went through it page by page," said Gullo. "Everyone had an opportunity to comment."

Nevin will make the recommended changes in the draft and forward copies to board members for review. Final comments are on the agenda for the Jan. 8 meeting.

"Our game plan has been to keep this plain and simple," said Nevin.

Although a legal review is not required, Amedori has asked the Institute for Government Service at the University of Maryland to comment on the charter.

"Typically, we work as a staff to the charter board, which we have done in every county considering charter except Carroll," said Jeanne Bilanin, project administrator for the institute. "But, we are willing to provide any help we can, and would review the draft."

The institute charges $2,500 when staff members work directly with charter writers, a fee usually paid by the county. Its staff would review the Carroll document at no cost and forward its comments. It conducted a similar study on Carroll's 1992 charter, which failed at the polls.

The commissioners appointed the charter board in May in response to a petition drive that amassed nearly 5,000 signatures. But the board had no operating money.

"We have had no support, no staff and barely the money to make photocopies," Gullo said. "Yet, I think we have written a near-perfect document. It shows what people with a sense of duty can accomplish."

Once the institute completes its review, which usually takes a few weeks, the board will vote on and sign the charter.

"Once the draft is on the table, we will take a vote on the entire charter," Gullo said.

The charter then goes to the commissioners, who must publicize the document and schedule a special election within four months of its receipt unless a primary or general election falls within that period.

"When we hand the document to the commissioners, that will drive the time frame," Nevin said.

If the charter passes in a special election early next year, the document includes a transition clause that would have the new government taking effect the first Monday in December after the election of an executive and council Nov. 3.

If the charter is on the November ballot and passes, candidates would run in a special election in November 1999 for three-year terms. Winners would assume office in December 1999. The next election would be in 2002, when candidates would run for four-year terms.

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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