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Merits of home rule in Washington County debated at public forum

January 11, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HALFWAY - About 40 people gathered Thursday night at Halfway Fire Hall for a public forum on charter home rule hosted by Citizens for Protection of Washington County.

The audience heard Jeanne Singer and Tom Berry, both former members of the Washington County Charter Board, debate the merits of home rule.

Afterward, audience members asked questions about the charter, which would change the county's governing body from a board of county commissioners to a county council.

Questions ranged from specifics about the 15-page charter document to more general queries about how charter government would affect local residents.

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"I understand that this charter would bring more local control, but honestly, it doesn't get me really enthused. Why should I care about this?" asked Bill Cowden of Williamsport.

Singer noted that many of the requests that the Washington County Commissioners sent to the county delegation last month, such as a request to enact a special events ordinance and a measure to prohibit semi-trucks from parking on public streets, could be handled immediately by a council.

"We wouldn't have to wait until one time a year and hope the General Assembly has time to pass these laws," Singer said. "We should be able to deal with these kind of things here when we need to deal with them."

Proponents of charter home rule generally argue that it would give local elected officials and citizens more power to govern themselves.

Berry said Thursday night that while charter government "is neither good nor bad," he is opposed to the charter that was approved by the charter board.

He said the document does not do enough to limit spending and borrowing, offers no protection from eminent domain abuse and sets too high the number of signatures required to bring issues to referendum, or public vote.

The charter would require 7 percent of voters to sign a petition to bring most items to referendum. Today, that would be about 5,600 signatures.

"Referendum is my biggest problem with this charter," Berry said. "If you think you want a referendum, you better be very good at getting signatures."

Voters will be able to decide on charter home rule during the Feb. 12 primary election.

For more information on home rule or to read the charter, go to www.washco-md.net and click on "Home Rule Charter Information."

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