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Editorial: Threat of forcing special election subverts, keeps Carroll voters out of charter process

Carroll County’s latest flirtation with a new form of government has been tabled for at least a year after Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, was unable to get a second Thursday after moving to create a board to write a charter. Once written, the charter could’ve been rejected or ratified by all the registered voters in Carroll County.

We have no issue with pushing back the timeline and allowing the commissioners to better understand the process of potentially moving from commission to charter government, to take the temperature of their constituents on the issue so as to gauge sentiment for change and, as Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said, to ensure that any charter written would not be rushed. “I will not entertain a change of this magnitude that doesn’t allow for the maximum amount of time. This is too huge,” Wantz said.

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But those aren’t the only reasons the issue was tabled. And we are troubled that the power to make such an important decision could be wrested from Carroll County residents and those they elected by a threat.

The county commissioners have been united in the belief that an expensive special election must be avoided if there is to be a vote on a charter. Election Director Katherine Berry told the commissioners Thursday that such a special election and processing the petition would cost about $400,000. That’s why any efforts at a change to charter were targeted toward getting it on the ballot during the regularly scheduled 2020 presidential election, when turnout would be highest.

Thus, an opponent of charter government could theoretically circumvent the process, taking advantage of the fact that local residents can protest commissioner choices for the charter writing committee by picking their own options and filing a petition with 2,000 signatures of registered voters, potentially forcing a special election.

In fact, Bruce Holstein, a member of the Carroll Taxpayers Coalition political action committee, told the Times last week, before Thursday’s commissioners meeting, that he was already prepared to put forth his own charter writing candidates and obtain 2,000 signatures to support them. On Friday, he told us the Carroll taxpayers group would spend the next year preparing for “the worst” result — that the commissioners would vote to set up a charter-writing committee — and plan to force a special election.

Mind you, this is without a charter writing committee being formed, making it difficult to see how anyone could disagree with the commissioners’ nonexistent choices to be on said committee. In other words, this threat is simply a way to discourage the formation of any charter-writing committee by those who don’t want to see change and it subverts the spirit of the process.

Here’s what Bouchat told us Friday: “For people who say they’re for saving the county money and being fiscally conservative, it defies logic why they’d want to cause extra burden upon the county. They’re just being obstinate."

We agree. This important issue, with such far-reaching ramifications, should be decided upon as intended, with the commissioners deciding for or against forming a charter writing committee and then, if a charter is written, by the entire electorate. Not by a tiny, motivated faction holding a bayonet.

Frankly, we would be in favor of seeing a charter written and then having it scrutinized so direct comparisons and informed decisions could be made. If citizens or groups are fundamentally opposed to charter, fine, they should contact the commissioners and lobby against the formation of a charter-writing committee and, in the event charter ever does make it onto a ballot, vote against it. Not this way.

We are hopeful that, 12 months from now, the conversation can continue and the process can move on in the spirit intended, with discourse that surely will include disagreement and passionate argument, but without threats. And that the commissioners might be able to find $400,000 to squirrel away next budget season, just in case.

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