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Group challenges charter process

November 30, 1999|By TARA REILLY

A group of local residents hopes to challenge the membership of a board appointed last month by the Washington County Commissioners to write a county charter, saying registered voters should determine who sits on the board.

"The participation of citizens in the electoral process only legitimizes and strengthens our government," Dan H. Seiler said Friday while standing in front of the Washington County Administration Building. "At the most basic level, the right to vote gives the citizens a chance to help select those who will ultimately be responsible for determining public policy."

The group is trying to force a special election to open the selection of the charter board to the public.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the group is using its legal right to attempt a special election.

"That's their privilege if they want to try and nominate somebody," Snook said. "That's their right to do that."

Seiler, who lost a bid for sheriff in September's primary election, is a member of Citizens for Elected Charter Board.

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The Washington County Commissioners on Sept. 19 appointed nine people to serve on the charter board in an attempt to change the county's form of government from commission to charter home rule.

Registered voters were given 60 days from then to challenge the selections.

A switch to charter home rule would lessen the commissioners' dependency on state legislators when creating some local laws, county officials have said.

The county would be governed according to what is written in the charter. County voters approve the charter and have the ability to challenge some local laws by referendum.

The charter board is tasked with writing the charter. The county's plan is to have voters decide on approving or rejecting the charter in the November 2008 presidential election.

Seiler said the group already has eight people interested in serving on the charter board, and that list could grow. It plans to accept nominations to the board until Monday.

After that, the group plans to begin a petition drive seeking 2,000 signatures of registered voters to force the special election.

The group has until Nov. 19 to submit the petition to the Board of Elections.

County officials have said a special election would cost $75,000 to $80,000. The group, however, thinks the issue of charter home rule is too large not to have an elected charter board.

"Can you put a price on public participation?" said Gerald Ditto of Clear Spring.

Both Seiler and Ditto applied to the commissioners to serve on the charter board, but were not chosen. They are two of the eight nominees who could appear on the special election ballot.

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