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Board writing county charter fields questions about process

September 21, 2006|by TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN - A day after the Washington County Commissioners appointed a nine-member board to write a county charter, the questions were already coming.

Several of the approximately 35 people who attended a meeting Wednesday night wanted to know more details about the makeup of the charter board and what kind of authority the commissioners would have if county voters approve charter home rule.

The meeting was held by the League of Women Voters of Washington County at St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown.

The county is in the process of trying to change its form of government from commissioner to charter home rule.

Charter home rule would give the county more authority to make local laws and lessen its dependency on state lawmakers. The county would be governed by what's written in the charter, and residents would have the ability to challenge the laws.

The commissioners' name would change to County Council.

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One woman questioned whether other political parties are represented on the charter board, since it was appointed by five Republican commissioners.

Monda Sagalkin, league president, said residents have 60 days to find their own candidates and collect 2,000 signatures from registered voters. That would force a special election on the makeup of the charter board.

"If you're not happy, get 2,000 signatures together," Sagalkin said.

While many of the procedural questions were answered, the league and charter board members said it was too soon to address others, such as the powers of the County Council.

That would be determined by what's in the charter.

"To sit here and speculate question after question, we could be here until the middle of the night and still not know," said Ron Bowers, who was appointed to the charter board Tuesday.

Bowers is a former County Commissioner.

County resident Hank Livelsberger asked whether the charter board meetings would be open to the public. League officials thought they would be open and that several public hearings also would be held.

Bowers said a change to charter home rule would never work if the board wrote the charter in closed session.

Hagerstown resident Roland Smith said he considers the possible change in government an important issue, which is why he attended the meeting.

"As a citizen of the county, I think the change that we're talking about is a very important one, and I want to be informed before I'm asked to vote on it," Smith said.

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