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Charter draft complete

citizens must read it now

September 04, 2007

Washington County residents would elect a seven-member county council - two members at-large - under the latest draft of a county charter.

Charter board representatives say they've gotten fewer than 50 citizen responses to what they've done so far, so we urge all who care about good government to read the document prior to the Feb. 12, 2008, vote, which coincides with Maryland's presidential primary.

Charter government would give the county's elected officials power to do some things - weed ordinances and the like - which would otherwise have to be approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

It would allow allow some actions of the county council to be petitioned to referendum. The exceptions will include the county's budget, so that government will not be disrupted by a challenge to what the council council has passed.

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Highlights of the charter draft include the following:

· The president of the Washington County Commissioners has traditionally been the highest voter-getter. Under the new charter, the president and vice president would be elected by the county council.

· On April 1 of the year following the U.S. Census, the county council would appoint a redistricting commission to look at boundary changes made necessary by the one-person, one-vote rule.

· That charter will only apply to the county's unincorporated areas. Municipalities such as Boonsboro, Smithsburg and Hancock will still be able to keep the form of government they have now.

Legislation would only be considered by the county council on the first and second Tuesdays of each month.

· The latest draft of the charter is scheduled to be be presented to the County Commissioners on Tuesday, Oct. 16. Between now and then, Jeanne Singer, chair of the charter board, and David Hanlin, a member at large, said last week that they would talk to as many citizens groups as possible.

No dates have been set yet, but The Herald-Mail has offered the charter board the opportunity to do a podcast (an audio interview), followed by an online chat on The Herald-Mail's Web site.

If you want to look at the charter board's previous deliberations, you may go to www.charterboard.org.

The Herald-Mail is not taking an editorial position on the charter at this time, because the document is still in draft form.

We note that in the past two attempts to pass a charter, many citizens have said that they like the fact that the members of the local General Assembly delegation act as a check on the commissioners' actions.

On the other side, the argument is that if the commissioners were given additional power, the voters would have to more closely watch the people they're electing.

Whichever form of the charter goes to the voters, approving it will mean that citizens will have to pay more attention to their local government.

In other words, the charter vote will be a referendum on whether citizens can take a greater role in governing themselves. We hope citizens care enough about that issue to educate themselves now and vote intelligently on Feb. 12.

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