Post - 9/22/03
The town's government has operated
under essentially the same rules for more than 17 years, but a
significant step has been taken to change that.
Thurmont's Charter Review Committee
has completed most of its nearly year-long rewriting of the
codes that determine how the town is governed. The result is a
document that leaves some guidelines unchanged, alters others,
and adds many sections that help better define the
government's role and authority.
A draft of the revised document
recently was made available to town residents, and it promises
to spark debate. The first opportunity for citizens to sound
off about the charter proposal is at 7 p.m. today at the
Thurmont Senior Center.
"We are a diverse group with a
lot of diverse opinions," Bill Blakeslee, one of the
committee members, said of the six-person group that authored
the proposed charter. "We don't have a document that
everybody's going to like.
The group decided to use a model
charter provided by Monika Thompson, government consultant
with the University of Maryland's Institute for Governmental
Service, as the basis for its updated charter. The tenets of
Thurmont's present document were incorporated, and some
sections were changed to reflect local preferences.
"We thought the whole thing
needed to be redone," said committee member Glenn Muth,
who plans to run for a seat on the town's board of
commissioners in October. "The model charter has been
seriously changed as well. We've gone so far as to take every
paragraph in the present charter and make sure we covered the
same issues in this Charter"
The result is a more comprehensive
document that's 56 pages long, about three times the length of
the current charter. The present document is 20 pages, five of
which are devoted to outlining the town's boundaries. Boundary
information is limited to one page in the committee's draft.
One of the most noticeable changes
proposed would seem to strengthen the mayor's seat by giving
the position full voting rights. However, committee members
argue that because the mayor currently can vote to break or
create a tie, allowing him a vote in other situations doesn't
give him more power. Instead, it puts him on the record for
The draft version of the new charter
also raises the bar on several matters. People seeking a
referendum on an issue or wanting to recall an official must
get the signatures of 25 percent of the town's registered
voters on their petition instead of just 20 percent. At least
four votes, not just a majority, are necessary for the board
to change the charter. And all five board members must agree
on a town attorney.
Mr. Blakeslee chuckled that the
unanimity requirement "could mean we never have a town
Some of the changes were inspired by
recent events in the town. Provisions in the proposed charter
prohibit commissioners from introducing and passing a
resolution, ordinance or charter amendment at the same meeting
and set stricter guidelines for public notice.
The draft also sets a time limit for
recall petitions, a provision that doesn't exist in the
current charter. If that proposal remains unchanged,
organizers would have to collect the required number of
signatures within 60 days of getting the first person to sign.
Though more signatures are required
for a referendum, the new charter proposed allowing residents
to petition to change any ordinance or resolution on the
Another change that may cause some
debate involves the titles for two staff positions. Instead of
having a clerk and treasurer, the committee proposes renaming
those positions chief administrative officer and chief
financial officer, respectively. Both positions are held by
Mr. Muth said the group is concerned
about the political impact of the name change. Committee
member Shirley DePaolis said she considered the titles "a
little too uptown for Thurmont."
Mr. Blakeslee, however, said the
titles are more in line with the duties performed. Mr. Muth
said it also shifts some burden to the person or persons in
Many changes have been made to the
draft so far, and committee members expect there to be more
changes based on public and commissioner input.
"It gives us something to start
with instead of something that's 17 years old," said Mrs.
The committee, which also included
Sandra Hunter, John Ford and Rich Terselic, was appointed by
the board of commissioners to review and revise the charter.
Mr. Terselic left the group a few months ago when he moved
from the town.