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What charter will and won't do for us

January 20, 2008

To the editor:

The conversation about the proposed home rule charter has begun in earnest as residents and elected officials work through the arguments, for and against. The majority of residents and elected officials that we have spoken with (and we have spoken with many around the county) strongly support the charter, reasoning that local decisions should be made locally and that we have outgrown the need for state supervision to govern our own affairs.

Charter home rule will:

· Give county government more authority over local issues,

· Provide more timely local decision-making free from dependence on when the General Assembly is in session,

· Expand accountability to the citizens by increasing transparency of the legislative process and increasing opportunities for citizen input by forcing the local government to publish proposed local laws in a local newspaper and by requiring local public hearings on these proposals,

· Give citizens the ability to change local government by amending the charter if needed to respond to pressures brought about by such issues as development and growth management, and

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· Give citizens the right to vote (referendum) on matters of local legislative action.

Charter home rule will not:

· Give our local officials any more ability to tax us than they currently have,

· Lead to the creation of a large number of local laws. After talking with others in charter counties, the move to charter government does not lead to a proliferation of new laws

A charter may not:

· Give the citizens a right of recall. Maryland law does not allow us to "fire" our elected officials in mid-term.

· Legislate. The charter board had citizens request that the charter set salaries, mandate compensation for downzoning, etc. These items are legislative in nature and must be enacted by our elected officials. The charter only sets forth the process for how these items are enacted.

For the most part, the few opponents of charter home rule are generally in favor of charter home rule but do not support this charter specifically.

My response is to ask them to support the passing of charter home rule on Feb. 12 and then work with us to amend the charter to address their concerns.

It will be easier for Washington County to amend the charter than it will be to start from scratch. While drafting the charter, the charter board found that it was impossible to draft a document that made every board member happy with every single provision.

Opponents who believe a document can be drafted that would make all registered voters in Washington County completely happy are unrealistic.

At a time of great change, when the people of Washington County know best how to shape our future, our own government is standing in the way. We should be allowed to control local laws, balance our own finances and decide how the local government best represents us.

With our current commissioner form of government, these most basic decisions are made in Annapolis. Under charter home rule, these decisions will be made here at home in Washington County. And under charter, if the people don't like what the local government does, they can vote on the issue and reverse the decision through the referendum process - a right generally not allowed under the commissioner form. Best of all, if something is not working with the charter itself, voters in Washington County can amend the charter to better suit Washington County.

Adopting the proposed charter is a question of good government. As government grows in our lives and businesses, we should do everything we can to bring decision-making closer to home, where our voices can be heard. We urge all Washington County residents to bring our government back to us by voting "yes" to the charter on Feb. 12. More information is available at www.charterboard.org.

Jeanne Singer,
Chair, charter board
for Washington County

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