Things were looking up last night when several hundred people came to Westminster High School, where the charter board was holding a public hearing.

But all but 15 of the people showed up to watch the Westminster High girls basketball team tackle Frederick in the gynasiumnext to the auditorium where the hearing was conducted.

It didn't help that the board showed up at the auditorium only tofind that no public address system was available for the meeting.

But the nine-member board forged ahead, and listened intently as thecitizens who did attend described their visions of what a charter for Carroll should feature. And though the attendance was low, the board members agreed the input was valuable.

The board is working at an accelerated clip in hopes of completing the charter in time to put in on the ballot for the November election and save the cost of a special election. But Winfield resident Burt Lego said the board should slow down.

"It's important enough . . . that you don't rush it," said Lego, who added he has yet to decide whether he supports charter goverment. "It warrants its own election. It might not arouse the interest it deserves (in the general election)."

Lego also told the board he would favor council members elected by district, not at large. The charter should require an elected county executive instead of an appointed manager, and should include a tax cap and a mechanism to dissolve the charter if it's not working out.

Last night's meetingwas the first of four hearings the board scheduled this month to getcitizen input. The next hearing is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Liberty HighSchool.

Joe Francis said the board could go a long way toward simplifying the charter issue with a simple question.

"We as citizenswill go into the voting booth and ask, 'Will this charter raise our taxes?' " the farmer said. "If we think it will, we're going to vote against it."

Francis also proposed that the board consider a charter requiring a unanimous council vote to raise tax.

Hampstead TownCouncilman Gary Bauer said he favors a five-member county council, an elected executive and an appointed manager, and a viable referendummeasure.

Westminster resident Charles I Wallace Sr., a retired minister, also said he'd prefer council members elected by districts.

And though he attended the board meeting instead of the nearby basketball game, Wallace still had hoops on his mind.

"You don't have to give me any questions because I want to go home in time to watch the Georgetown-Villanova game," Wallace quipped to the board members, who had been following citizen comments with questions.

In other charter board news, the North Carroll Democrat Club issued a press release stating its support for charter government in Carroll.

At itsJanuary meeting, the club -- which has about 40 members from the Hampstead, Manchester and Finksburg areas -- voted unanimously in support of charter government. The group also stated its support for the commissioner-appointed board, and expressed confidence the board could complete its task before the November election.

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