Group registers to fight for charter Debates with opponents to begin next month

March 29, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Citizens for Charter Government made it official Friday, registering with the Board of Elections as a political action committee to promote a change in government.

"By filing for official status, we can now raise and spend money in behalf of the [charter] proposition," said John R. Culleton, a spokesman for the group.

The "strictly local issue" organization will dissolve, Culleton said, after the electorate votes on charter May 2, the first Saturday election in county history.

Nearly 75,000 registered voters will be eligible to cast ballots on the charter initiative. If the proposal passes, Carroll would abandon its commissioner government for an executive and county council.

"We need a chief executive worthy of the name," said Culleton. "You wouldn't run a $240 million business with a part-time board, would you?"

Prospective candidates for the offices created by an approved charter would have until July 6 to file for the September primary.

"If charter passes, I expect we will have 60 candidates for those offices," said the group's treasurer, Lloyd R. Helt. "If it doesn't pass, we will be lucky to have a dozen candidates for commissioner."

Charter would also make the county less dependent on the General Assembly, which enacts all legislation for the state's noncharter counties.

"Why should we have Baltimore City voting on our issues?" Helt asked. "Charter is participatory democracy at its best."

The co-chairmen of the group are William Lauterbach and Jeff Griffith, former county commissioners who will be available as speakers in the weeks before the vote.

In a series of debates to begin April 8 at Gamber Fire Hall, the proponents will face opposition from Citizens Against Big Charter Government, a group that registered with the elections board March 13. Both organizations are bipartisan.

"They are just a little ahead of us and probably have a few more bucks," said Culleton.

Charter does not automatically mean a bureaucracy and higher taxes, Helt said. Residents have only to look at the eight incorporated towns to see efficient charter government at its best, said Helt, a former Sykesville mayor.

Said Culleton, "Charter devolves government down to the local level."

Jim Reter, a founder of the anti-charter group, said commissioner government is more accessible to residents.

"The commissioners are readily available to citizens," Reter said. "Try and get a meeting with the Baltimore County executive."

He said he is at a loss to explain why residents who have moved to Carroll from charter counties would want home rule here.

"There are a lot of problems with charter," Reter said. "The commissioner government is less complicated and less expensive."

A sample of the ballot hangs on the wall in the elections board office.

It shows two questions requiring "for" or "against" answers.

The second question, after the charter proposal, deals with an initiative sponsored by the legislative delegation to expand the commissioner board from three to five members -- "a spoiler issue" designed to confuse voters, said Culleton.

"It could not be any simpler," said Stephen M. Nevin, executive chairman of the pro-charter group. "Geographically and demographically, charter gives us the better form of government for anyone of any age."

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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