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Moving toward home rule

Commissioners endorse charter home rule for county

Commissioners endorse charter home rule for county

June 14, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Saying residents would have a louder voice in how local government is run, the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday endorsed changing the county's current type of government to charter home rule.

Under charter home rule, the County Commissioners would have more authority in creating local laws, but residents could challenge those laws and force a referendum.

The county currently operates under a commission form of government, which depends more on state lawmakers to decide local decisions.

"Citizens actually make decisions on what government they want to run this community," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said of charter home rule. "I'm not going to stand in the way of the citizens making the decision ..."

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Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioners Doris J. Nipps and John C. Munson also agreed to pursue charter home rule.

They endorsed forming a charter board to write a county charter.

The board will consist of five, seven or nine members, as allowed by state law, and nominations will be selected between Aug. 19 and Oct. 19, said Joe Kroboth III, chairman of a task force formed by the commissioners to study home rule.

Kroboth is also the county's deputy director of public works.

The task force earlier this year recommended to the commissioners a switch to charter home rule.

The county would operate under the charter if residents approve the document. The charter would address legislative and executive functions and the county's structure.

While the commissioners will pick the board, residents have the ability to challenge the appointments and nominate their own candidates. That could force a special election to name the board, Kroboth said.

The special election is estimated to cost $85,000, he said.

If all goes as planned, residents could be voting on a charter in the November 2008 presidential election, Kroboth said.

Included among the powers of a charter county is the authority to "repeal or amend local laws previously enacted by the General Assembly," and an authority called "police power," which allows the county council to "enact any law not in conflict with the laws of the state 'as may be deemed expedient in maintaining the peace, good government, health and welfare of the county,'" according to the task force's report.

The commissioners' name would change to County Council and it would be possible to have an elected or appointed county executive under charter home rule.

Under charter home rule, voters may also choose how many people serve on the council and how much council members earn, among other abilities, according to the report.

Munson, who previously was adamant in his opposition to switching to home rule, said Tuesday that the decision should be left up to voters.

"I personally like the present form of government, because I like the oversight (by the state), but I think the public needs to make that decision ... what kind of government they want," he said after the meeting.

More authority for county



Charter home rule: Washington County government would operate under a charter approved by voters. The county would have the authority to "repeal or amend local laws previously enacted by the General Assembly."

Commissioner: Current form of government. Legislative power is limited to those areas authorized by the General Assembly, enabling legislation or public local laws.

Source: The Task Force on Home Rule report

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