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 Thurmont Residents Get Chance to
Speak on Draft Charter

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News 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 every issue.

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 attorney again."

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 town's books.

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 Rick May.

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 the positions.

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. DePaolis.

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.

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