One task left on charter: vote's timing Board must decide on special election or delay to November

Early ballot's cost an issue

Panel to discuss endorsement of draft at meeting Thursday

January 23, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With its proposal for a new form of county government written, the Carroll charter board has one issue left to consider: When will the public get to vote on the proposal?

The nine-member board must decide whether the charter government proposal will appear on a special ballot or wait until the general election in November. The charter would change county government from three commissioners to an executive and council.

The debate that ensues among board members Thursday could determine how many of them endorse the document they have spent six months writing. Some members have said they will not endorse the charter if it means a special election must be held because of the cost.

The clock starts running on an election date when the board hands the draft to the commissioners. The commissioners have 30 days to advertise the proposal and 90 days after that to schedule an election, unless a general election occurs within the designated time frame.

Giving the document to the commissioners this month would mean a $106,000 special election in May or early June.

If the board waits long enough, the issue would appear on the November ballot along with other initiatives.

Commission member Romeo Valianti said he would withhold his endorsement if a special election would be required. Lynn Pipher and Chairwoman Carmen Amedori also said they might not endorse the document.

"If there are no changes and the board votes to have a special election, it is doubtful I will sign," Pipher said.

Pipher, a Woodbine farmer, plans to move to Kansas within the next few years, a move prompted by the political climate in Carroll, he said.

"Here, they are taking away property rights," Pipher said. "Where we are moving, there are no zoning regulations."

Pipher is opposed to the latest version of a charter, which he calls "a blank check to raise taxes and increase an already bloated government." He likens an elected executive to a dictator.

Amedori said the board eliminated "the last spending control" by a 5-to-4 vote on Jan. 8. That vote rescinded a measure that would have required a super majority -- four-fifths of council -- to enact a property tax increase.

"If anything would have swayed voters to charter, it would be the super majority needed for a tax increase," Amedori said. "The document now protects the bureaucracy it creates."

But it is the cost of a special election that might keep her from signing.

"I am not keen on a special election," said Amedori. "The costs, the extra work, closing schools, all that aggravates people."

Amedori said she would like the document amended to include a clause that if charter passes, the commissioners elected on the same ballot would serve two-year terms, instead of four. Charter would take effect in November 2000.

The absence of a unanimous endorsement has no bearing on the legality of the charter proposal. In 1992, two board members -- including Richard T. Yates, now a county commissioner -- withheld endorsement and one abstained. That proposal was defeated at the polls.

"I thought there was a possibility that there might not be nine endorsements, but it has no bearing as long as a majority signs fTC the document," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, vice chairman of the charter board.

Although it could have taken up to 18 months to write a charter, the board finished a draft in six months and forwarded it for review last month to the Institute for Government Service at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"I am sorry they rushed it," Yates said. "Historically, there is not a big turnout for special elections."

When Yates appointed Valianti, Pipher and Regan Cherney to the commission, he asked them not to vote for a special election, he said. Yates has had no contact with those appointees since naming them to the board in April, he said.

The institute has written a six-page response, which board members expect to receive by Monday.

"There was nothing that would be a deterrent," Jeanne Bilanin, project administrator for the institute, said of the six-page response. "But the transition must provide for an election. They need to spell that out."

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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