Confusion over election frustrates charter backers Commissioners accused of stalling

March 15, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Charter supporters are increasingly frustrated by what they see as a pattern of stalling by county and state officials who are opposed to changing local government.

Confusion about the date for a referendum on charter government is the latest in a series of missteps that are confusing voters who must decide on what form of government works best for Carroll County, proponents say.

"Government officials should facilitate, not create static in a process that is already confusing to voters," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., who helped write the proposed charter. Soon after a nine-member charter board delivered the document last month, the County Commissioners set a June 9 election. On the same ballot will be an initiative sponsored by the Carroll legislative delegation to expand the board of commissioners from three to five members. Many charter proponents say that has confused the issue even more.

If it passed referendum, the new charter would take effect 30 days later. The three commissioners have since learned that if the election is held on June 9, the county would not be able to comply with either the state's candidate filing deadlines or federal deadlines for printing absentee ballots. A tentative date of May 5 is now being discussed.

"The county cannot set up its own game rules," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Manchester Republican. "The election deadlines are mandatory."

All the jockeying and posturing offer voters the best examples of why local government should change, charter proponents said.

"The last time I checked, voters were supposed to be in charge," said Viv Dorwart of Mount Airy, who helped collect charter petitions last year. "We got enough signatures to make them appoint a committee. All these different dates are making it confusing for people, throwing them off."

A petition signed by nearly 5,000 residents forced the commissioners to appoint a charter board nearly a year ago.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates, who oppose a change of government, appointed board members who shared their distaste for charter. Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown has supported the movement.

"Why do away with commissioner government?" said Dell. "I have lived here all my life and see no benefits to changing what we have now."

The charter board devoted nine months to writing the 41-page document and holding public hearings. The Institute for Governmental Service in College Park favorably reviewed the document before board members delivered it to the commissioners Feb. 13.

A copy of the charter is running in today's issue of The Sun.

But soon after the commissioners scheduled the election, Getty apprised them of problems with candidate filings and inadequate time for absentee ballots.

"The commissioners set the date without considering the ramifications," said William Sraver, a charter supporter. "As usual, they acted without thinking."

The Board of Education will review Tuesday the commissioners' request to close schools for a May 5 election. Without use of the schools for polling places, charter may have to wait for the November ballot, a move favored by both Yates and Dell because a special election will cost taxpayers about $100,000.

"The charter board is recklessly spending our money in a careless, inconsiderate manner by insisting on a special

election," said Dell.

Gullo, however, says the commissioners are responsible for much of the confusion. He called the commissioners' actions "a ploy to derail charter from coming to referendum in a timely manner."

"Seems to me that the commissioners are doing everything in their power to muddy the waters," said Gullo. "First they appoint opponents, then they call charter flawed and now they are stalling with the election process. It is an affront to all voters in Carroll County, almost an abuse of power and misuse of office."

Ann M. Ballard, also a charter board member, said she has received many calls from angry voters, many of whom accuse the commissioners and legislators of setting up roadblocks to the voting process.

"This issue is not up to a group of politicians to decide," Ballard said. "It is arrogance to disregard the will of the people. All of us on the charter board gave our time and from the start, the commissioners have set up stumbling blocks."

Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, who wrote the charter with Gullo, called it a clear, understandable and valid document. He criticized the commissioners for a lack of preparation that has them scrambling for an election date.

"It's not like the commissioners didn't know this was coming," Nevin said.

Gene Edwards of Eldersburg said the commissioners and legislators are using the power of their offices to thwart the effort.

"This is no more than two commissioners fighting to save their jobs," Edwards said. "This is the best-crafted charter in the state, with so many positives, not the least of which is we can pass our own laws and not rely on clunk- heads in the legislature and people jockeying for political power."

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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