Charter debate takes on steam Both sides are set to address public at forums next month

March 25, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

In the weeks before the May 2 charter election, supporters and opponents will be escalating their campaigns in an extensive series of public forums, debating an issue that could change the face of local government.

"We are trying to give voters both sides of the story," said Carolyn Fairbank, chairwoman of the Freedom Area Community Planning Council, which supports the charter effort and plans two forums. "We want to give the public as much information as we can, so they can make up their own minds."

The ballot, the county's first scheduled on a Saturday, offers voters a "yes" or "no" choice on two initiatives: a charter government by an executive and county council; and the expansion of the board of commissioners from three to five members, a proposal sponsored by the county legislative delegation.

Should both win a "yes" vote, charter would take precedence.

Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, who helped write the charter, will meet with the Finksburg Planning Area Council at 7 p.m. tomorrow. "People are agreeing that it is a much better document now than we have had before," said Nevin, vice chairman of the charter board, who has spoken to several community groups recently and will address the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

Voters rejected charter in 1992. Many proponents attribute that failure to the inclusion of a tax limit and a provision for an appointed rather than elected executive.

The new charter has no property-tax limit and provides for a full-time, elected executive and part-time council members, elected from five established districts.

The Finksburg group has scheduled forums April 4 and 29, in which two proponents will debate two opponents of charter at the Gamber Fire Hall on Route 32. The Freedom council forums are scheduled April 23 and 30 at the Carroll County Bank & Trust Building in Eldersburg.

Citizens Against Big Charter Government, which formed about a month ago, is mounting a campaign, too. The group will staff the debates with speakers opposing the initiative.

"I will be speaking of the disadvantages. I can't pick out good things."Carmen Amedori,founding member of Citizens Against Big Charter Government

A founding member of the group is Carmen Amedori, who served nearly nine months as chair of the charter board before resigning in protest. Amedori claimed several members had their own political agendas and were rushing to complete charter.

Amedori will address the South Carroll Republican Club and the Carroll County Landowners Association next month. "I will be speaking of the disadvantages," Amedori said. "I can't pick out good things."

The anti-charter group, which numbers about 40, also plans an information session from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 4 at the Four Seasons Sports Complex in Hampstead.

"We are hearing sentiment is running two-to-one against charter," Amedori said. "People are just not in the frame of mind to overhaul government right now."

At the Tri-District Republican meeting last week, a straw poll showed no support for charter among the 16 members attending, Amedori said.

Nevin disagreed with Ame-dori's assessment. After meeting with several community groups, he said, he has found much support.

He will argue the advantages of charter as a government that "gives everyone in our county a direct voice through a full-time executive and regionally elected council," he said.

The proposed charter provides for regional appointments to the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Board of Ethics.

"Our government will be more responsive to us and more efficient in its operation," Nevin said.

He takes exception to the charge that charter will mean an automatic tax increase to fund an expanding bureaucracy. The writers included safeguards such as "no funding for renting, staffing or supplying a council member with a district office."

"A tax increase is a function of [the] platform on which a candidate is elected, the needs of the county and the funding available to meet those needs," Nevin said.

Charter opponents will not take a position on the expansion initiative. Amedori said she expects it to fail also.

"Five commissioners voted on at large is more big government," she said. "If the vote had been by district, it may have gotten a more favorable vote."

Other members of the charter board, which disbanded last month after working nine months to produce the document, also oppose the initiative.

Four on the nine-member board refused to endorse the charter before it was delivered to the County Commissioners last month.

"I expected there would be opposition," Nevin said. "But, this is an election about a concept, not about personalities."

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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