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During six meetings over the past several weeks, the board charged with writing a document that would fundamentally alter the way Carrollis governed has sifted through mounds of paper work and fielded dozens of ideas.

But the task of drafting a county charter begins in earnest Tuesday night, with the first in a series of hearings designedto let citizens in on the brainstorming.

Although the Charter Review Commission has met, its nine members have not begun to write the charter. Instead, they've been designing a plan, collecting information and ideas from civic groups and counties that already have made the jump to charter government.

Before the actual writing, the board wants to know what features Carroll residents would like to see in the charter, said co-chairman Walter Bay.

That's what this month's public hearings are all about, he said.

"It's not for us to tell you (what should be in the charter), but for you to tell us what you'd like to see in local government," Bay said during Tuesday's public work session at the Agriculture Center in Westminster.

This week's session is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the auditorium of Westminster High School. The board also will have meetings on Feb. 11 at Liberty High, Feb. 18 at North Carroll High and Feb. 25 at Francis Scott Key High. All run from 7 to 10 p.m.

After the hearings, the board will write a first draft and have another public meeting.

Suggested revisions will be made and the document will besubmitted to the county commissioners for review.

The hope is that the charter will be placed on the ballot for the November general election.

The board's work has been overshadowed in recent weeks byother charter-related news.

In December, nine people who objectedto the composition of the board collected signatures and filed a petition to challenge the members on the ballot of the March 3 primary. (One challenger has since withdrawn.)

Seventeen names -- the appointed nine and the eight remaining challengers -- will appear on the primary ballot, and the top nine vote-getters will resume work on the charter.

But that's only if the challengers' petition isn't thrownout by a Circuit Court judge. Last week, an unemployed Finksburg resident filed a suit claiming the petition should be invalidated because it failed to comply with requirements laid out in the state constitution.

In his suit, former GOP Central Committee member Frank H. Rammes said the challengers did not file the appropriate financial expenditures documentation with their petition. Rammes, who helped collect signatures that forced the commissioners to appoint the existing board, also argues that the challengers must petition as individuals, not as a "slate."

Despite not knowing how many of them will remainon the board after March 3, the appointed members continue their work. Because of the election challenge, they decided not to render any "substantive" decisions concerning the charter, and instead to continue to collect information and ideas.

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