Charter lacked staying power Two years ago, Carroll might have voted for change


An article in yesterday's editions should have said that a charter government proposal in Carroll County won in six precincts, all in the Eldersburg-Sykesville area.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The seeds of defeat in the Carroll County charter initiative that failed by a wide margin at the polls Saturday may have been sown at its inception two years ago.

The impetus for change to a county executive and five-member county council was not the belief that it would be more effective, but that the County Commissioners were in turmoil.

They were divided, hamstrung and under siege. They had raised local income taxes 16 percent to pay for new schools, and they were proposing a property tax increase to maintain essential government services.

Slow-growth advocates were saying the commissioners weren't doing enough to control growth, and developers and landowners were saying they were doing too much.

Had charter government been on the ballot in April 1996, the county might well be run by a county executive and county council today. There was so much sentiment against the commissioners then that charter supporters had little difficulty getting the nearly 5,000 signatures they needed to force a referendum on creating a new system.

But two years is a long time to nurse a grudge, especially when the circumstances leading to that grudge have mostly disappeared.

The commissioners became unified enough to address the county's school construction needs, fix the county's; mounting trash disposal problem for at least five years and enact a growth-control law.

The crisis was so much a distant memory that by Saturday, voters in only five of the county's 43 precincts -- four in Eldersburg, one in Mount Airy -- were dissatisfied enough to seek a change.

'People have spoken'

"The people have spoken, and the message is that we want change, but we don't want radical change," said County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who has chosen to run for a seat in the House of Delegates this fall rather than seek re-election as a county commissioner. "The rest of the message will come in November."

Although only five precincts voted for charter, they are in some of the fastest-growing parts of the county, Brown said, and those voices need to be heard. But they won't be, he said, "unless we choose candidates sensitive to diversity of opinion" in county elections this fall.

"It is imperative that in November we elect those candidates who have a broad and diverse perspective," he said. "We can't be single-minded individuals and govern a county as broad and diverse as Carroll."

Help for South Carroll

Commissioner Donald I. Dell agrees that future boards of commissioners need to listen to what people in South Carroll are saying, but he said he also thinks residents need to look at what the commissioners are already doing in South Carroll.

The county's first satellite library and combination health department and police station were put there, he said. And a new high school that was slated for Westminster will be delayed a year so that one can be built in South Carroll first, he said.

Confused by vote

"I think the people there need to take a step back to see what's happened and that we've helped and responded."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates, an Eldersburg resident who was the leading vote-getter among the commissioners in 1994, doesn't know what to think about the fact that four precincts in his neighborhood voted for charter.

"I'm confused," he said. "For years, I've lived in Eldersburg. I've done everything I was asked to do. I didn't raise taxes, I voted for growth management, I placed people from Eldersburg on the planning commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals, yet people were saying they didn't have representation.

"I don't know what they think charter would do that we haven't done. Everywhere else they have charter, growth has exploded.

"I'm just hoping some of the people who voted for charter in VTC Eldersburg yesterday are those with a liberal slant who want to get everybody out of office."

But Yates has no such doubts about the message voters were giving elsewhere yesterday.

Mayors rebuffed

"People in this county are very conservative," he said, but the newspapers "write with a liberal bent."

"They want to change the county, and they can't do it," Yates said.

"Even a couple of mayors got their tails caught in the wringer too. Not one precinct did they carry."

Indeed, Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin and New Windsor Mayor Jack Gullo Jr. -- the chief architects of the charter proposal -- championed it to no avail. Charter lost in all four Hampstead precincts and in both New Windsor precincts.

"It was unfortunate charter never generated the interest it deserved," Nevin said. "At some point, it will come back."

Gullo said it was "disappointing to come this far and not be successful." The county "has to move on now and address the problems that started this movement," he said.

Pub Date: 5/04/98

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