The referendum petition sponsored by Citizens Working to Fix Howard County [FIXHOCO] was reviewed by the Howard County Board of Elections [HCBE], which approved the format. The HCBE also required that a "fair and accurate" summary of the issues targeted by the petition needed to be printed on the back of each signature sheet. The HCBE stated that it was not their role to assess the fairness or accuracy of the summary, but that it was possible that it could be contested in court by other individuals and/or groups. The only other stipulation HCBE made before any referendum petitioning began was that during the course of petitioning that a complete copy of the comprehensive rezoning bill needed to be available for people to consult.

Following approval and in compliance with HCBE directives FIXHOCO volunteers petitioned for months and were able to meet both deadlines for signature submissions. There was a request submitted to the HCBE for a hearing by attorney William Erskine. Acting on behalf of developers that could potentially be affected by the referendum petition Mr. Erskine sought to challenge the certification of the first half of the signatures submitted. His request was denied by HCBE.

However, weeks after petitioning was completed FIXHOCO was notified by the HCBE Elections Director Guy Mickley that enough signatures had been received and certified. However, after the HCBE met with another attorney opposing the referendum petition, Gerald Richman, they decided that the petition summary wording was not "fair and accurate."

This development is of particular interest in that the HCBE previously approved the petition format and stated that it was not their role to assess whether the summary was "fair and accurate." Why now has the HCBE decided to assume the role of assessing whether the summary is "fair and accurate"? Also, why wasn't an opportunity provided for FIXHOCO members, other community groups, and interested individuals to provide their input and/or attend the meetings that included Mr. Erskine and/or Mr. Richman? The most compelling question is, "Why aren't people being given the opportunity to vote on these issues that will directly impact them and their communities?"

Candy Warden

President, Rosa Bonheur Society Inc.