Start the clock on charter Carroll County: Unanimous or not, panel's vote should trigger referendum process.

January 28, 1998

WHEN THE Carroll County charter drafting board meets tomorrow, two final questions will be answered by the nine appointed members.

Most important is whether the majority will vote to send the final document to the county commissioners immediately, thus starting the legally required 120-day process in which an election must be held on this fundamental change in county government. That would mean a special, springtime referendum instead of waiting until the November election.

The second question is whether all members of the panel, which has been working for six months, will sign the completed draft. Much has been made of the possibility that some members will refuse to sign out of protest, which might influence undecided voters to reject the proposed charter.

That is nonsense. Opponents of charter will be well-heard in the ensuing debate over the draft document, as they have been in the past. Three times in 30 years, Carroll voters have rejected home-rule proposals.

It was widely known that the commissioners chose to appoint opponents of charter government to the drafting board. While panel members have not openly expressed opposition, some have said as much in unofficial conversations. If some members choose not to sign, that won't affect the legal approval. The panel's vote is a majority decision. Given the circumstances of appointment, it may have been unrealistic to expect unanimity on the final proposal.

The shift to charter government, after a century and a half of rule by commissioners, has a better chance of passage in a special county election. A single-question referendum this spring would attract voters who care about this issue, one way or the other, rather than burying it on a crowded ballot in November. A critical and distinctly county question might be obscured in a state election.

That is why the majority of the drafting committee is prepared to vote approval and start the legal clock ticking toward a spring ballot. The refusal of a minority to sign the draft should be of minimal significance. Most members strove to write the best charter for presentation to voters, and they favor a timely special election. It is that effort for which Carroll citizens should be grateful.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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