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Creating a charter to change Carroll County’s form of government would take about two years, county attorney says

It would likely take about two years to create and vote on a charter for a new form of government in Carroll County, County Attorney Tim Burke said Thursday at the weekly Board of Commissioners meeting.

At least one county commissioner is eyeing the November 2022 election to put a potential charter up for a vote. But in order to make it onto that ballot, commissioners would need to submit their ballot question by the second Monday in August 2022, Burke said.

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During Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Eric Bouchat — who has been an outspoken supporter of a charter government — asked Burke if the board could wait until after this November’s general election to start the charter process.

That could be a tight deadline, Burke said, considering that the independent charter board would have up to 18 months to draft a charter, and a number of procedural requirements follow.

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“You have to very carefully look at the calendar to make that work,” Burke said. “I would say two years would be a sufficient timeline.”

County commissioners only recently revived the discussion about a charter, which would change the way Carroll County is governed. So far, two commissioners have expressed support — Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and Bouchat, R-District 4.

Typically, charters establish a county executive and county council, separating executive and legislative functions. Currently, the county has a commissioner form of government with commissioners from five districts voted to the board.

The arrangement could also give Carroll County more autonomy. Currently, commissioners have to go through the General Assembly to regulate local roads, sell county property, approve salaries of county employees and more. But critics say establishing a charter government could put too much power in the hands of an executive.

First, the county Board of Commissioners would need to create a board of five, seven or nine citizens to draft the charter.

The entire process could be derailed for several months if county voters contest the commissioners’ appointments. To do so, they’d need to secure 2,000 signatures on petitions within 60 days. Then, an election would ensue, to determine whether the commissioners’ nominees or voters’ nominees form the board.

”It’s a real mess,” Burke said. His presentation drew from a book entitled “Home Rule Options in Maryland,” by Victor Tervala.

Once it’s established, the charter board has up to 18 months to draft the charter. Then, the document would be sent to the board of county commissioners.

Next, the charter has to be published in the newspaper twice within 30 days, Burke said.

Between 30 and 90 days after that publication, county voters would vote on the charter.

“Everybody, I assume, wants to have it in November [2022] during the general election, because the cost of a special election is prohibitive and the participation is much less,” Burke said.

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