Cranberry Mall in Westminster has closed its doors on the Carroll County Citizens for Charter Government and its charter petition drive.
The group needs about 2,000 signatures before it can force the County Commissioners to appoint a charter-writing board.
A weekend or two collecting those signatures at the county's busiest mall at its busiest time could put supporters at or above their goal of 4,000, a figure slightly higher than the 5 percent of the registered voters required before the commissioners will take action.
Shopco, the New York-based owner of Cranberry Mall, bans any involvement in political issues.
"We try to give our shoppers a pleasant experience, unhindered by civic responsibilities," said Sherrie Little, Cranberry marketing director. "A petition drive is an intrusion upon their privacy."
Carrolltown Center in Eldersburg, the only other enclosed shopping center in Carroll County, welcomed the petitioners.
"We like to have the mall open to everyone in the community, to try to accommodate everyone we can," said R. Dixon Harvey, Carrolltown's owner. "The mall is a fine place to solicit signatures on an issue that is in front of the people in Carroll County."
Supporters have until mid-January, six months from the date of the first petition signing, to complete the drive. In signing the petitions, voters are asking that a charter be written and put to a referendum. Their signatures do not denote a position for or against the issue.
If Cranberry Mall allows one political group access, Little said,
it would be inundated with similar requests, particularly during an election year.
"The petition drive would not connote a pleasant shopping experience," Little said. "This is not a situation where we want people to stop and think about political issues or have to read nTC and sign something."
Although the mall does not offer a political platform to any group, it does sponsor community-oriented activities throughout the year, Little said.
This month, it is working with the Salvation Army on a gift collection drive. It also recently promoted a program for the local Coalition of Literacy Providers. It plans a celebration next year to honor the Boys Scouts centennial and an art show with the county Board of Education.
"Carroll County is a wonderful community and we try to help its organizations," Little said. "But we cannot allow campaigning for anything. We must be seen as benefiting the county as a whole, not promoting a cause in a shopping environment."
That stance will make the drive more difficult for petitioners, but they vow to continue the effort. For weeks, they have stood in front of several area grocery stores, Wal-Marts and at post offices.
With winter approaching, the malls, which have become town centers and gathering places for residents, seemed the ideal places to wrap up the petition drive. Cranberry Mall typically has about 85,000 shoppers in December.
"It has been difficult for us to find commercial places in Westminster," said John R. Culleton Jr., information coordinator for the charter group.
Culleton has found post offices to be the best sites for collecting signatures. Most of their customers are county residents, he said.
"About half the people who come into stores in South Carroll are not Carroll County residents," he said.
The first signatures were collected July 11 at a meeting at Liberty High School. If supporters cannot reach their goal by Jan. those signatures would become invalid. It is a technical problem, Culleton said.
"We may have to drop the early signatures and ask those people to re-sign," he said.
Volunteers will be at Roberts Field in Hampstead all day tomorrow; from 10 a.m. to noon tomorrow at Festival Foods in Finksburg Plaza and at the Sykesville and Westminster post offices.
From noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, they will be at Wal-Mart in Westminster. They plan a similar schedule next weekend.
Pub Date: 12/06/96