Members of home-rule board chosen

September 20, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A unanimous vote Tuesday by the Washington County Commissioners put the future of county government in the hands of voters.

The County Commissioners voted to appoint a nine-member board that will be given the task of writing a charter that could change the way county government is run.

A change to charter home rule likely 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 county currently operates under the commissioner form of government. Under charter home rule, the commissioners' name would be changed to County Council.

The commissioners, as outlined by state law, must now step back and let the charter home rule board write the charter without directive from the commissioners, said Joe Kroboth, county deputy director of public works and chair of a different home rule task force.

Kroboth said the commissioners may discuss their thoughts on the charter, but they may not give orders to the charter board.

Commissioner John C. Munson said the matter is now out of the commissioners' hands.

If all goes as planned, county voters will decide through a referendum in the November 2008 election whether they want to be governed by charter home rule.

But there could be problems before the board begins drafting the charter.

County residents have the ability to challenge the board appointments made Tuesday by the commissioners.

Should voters object to one or several of the appointments, the voters could find their own candidates and collect 2,000 signatures of support from other registered voters. That would force a special election on the makeup of the board, Kroboth said.

Registered voters have 60 days from the day the commissioners appointed the charter the board to contest its membership.

Kroboth said a special election would cost the county $85,000 to $90,000.

Each of the five commissioners picked one person to serve on the board, then voted on the remaining four members.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook appointed former Commissioner Lee Downey to the charter board. Vice President William J. Wivell chose former School Board member Tom Berry, while Munson picked former Commissioner Ron Bowers.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval appointed Brien Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, and Commissioner Doris J. Nipps chose Sharon Leatherman.

The four other candidates the commissioners agreed to appoint are Spence Perry, Dave Hanlin, Jeanie Singer and Mary Ellen Waltemire.

Kroboth said voters did not contest the makeup of the charter boards in two previous failed attempts to switch to home rule.

He said, however, "It's out there. It's a possibility."

What is charter home rule?

Under charter home rule, Washington County would be governed according to what is in the charter.

The County Commissioners would have more authority in creating local laws, but residents could challenge those laws and force a referendum.

Included among the powers of a charter county is the authority to "repeal or amend local laws previously enacted by the General Assembly."

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.

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