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Singer surprised by rejection of charter home rule

Proposal failed by greater margin than in either of the previous two questions on charter

Proposal failed by greater margin than in either of the previous two questions on charter

February 13, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Charter advocate Jeanne Singer said Wednesday she was surprised by the sound rejection of charter home rule in Tuesday's primary election.

The former charter board president who spent the past several months campaigning for the proposed charter said she expected a tight vote margin on the ballot question.

"Whether it passed or failed, I thought it would be much closer," Singer said.

Washington County voters on Tuesday rejected charter home rule by a 2-to-1 margin.

With 33 percent approval, the proposal failed by a greater margin than in either of the county's two previous ballot questions on charter.

In a 1977 special election, a charter proposal failed with 38 percent of the vote. During the 1988 general election, another charter question failed with 45 percent approval.

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This year's measure had been heavily debated in forums and editorials in the months leading up to Tuesday's election.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, who opposed the charter, said he thought voters made an informed decision on the charter.

"The public obviously took a close look at this charter and felt that there were too many risks associated with it," Shank said Tuesday.

Singer said she thought the high level of public involvement would bode well for the charter's approval.

Of the 25,918 people that voted in Tuesday's election, about 10 percent did not cast a vote one way or the other on the charter proposal.

By comparison, about 38 percent of voters who cast ballots in the 1988 general election chose not to vote on that year's charter question.

"On a question like this, it's always a matter of getting voters interested. People were definitely engaged. I'm not sure why they decided against it," Singer said.

Another former charter board member, David Hanlin, said the vote seemed to reflect a general dissatisfaction and distrust in government among voters.

"People are very upset right now. They're upset with sales taxes, with income taxes, with their assessments. They want change, they just don't know what it is," Hanlin said.

The charter would have changed Washington County's governing body from a board of commissioners to a county council.

That council would have been able to pass its own local laws instead of sending them to the Maryland General Assembly for approval. It would also have had more power to borrow money than the commissioners.

Opponents said the charter would result in higher taxes and more government, an assertion that charter advocates rejected.

Many opponents also argued that debt limits and the threshold for bringing bills to referendum, or public vote, were too high in the proposed charter document.

Some opponents said while they favored charter government they were against the proposed charter.

Singer said that is proof that the county should revisit charter government in the future.

"I don't know what the perfect consensus document that picks up a majority of voters looks like, but I think a lot of people think this is the right form of government," Singer said.

By law, a new charter drafting board cannot be created for 18 months after a charter question fails in an election.

With Tuesday's vote, Washington County simply will retain its current commissioner form of government.

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