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Public responds to proposed town charter

James Rada Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(9/24) Thurmont will soon have its first official mayor in its 255-year history when the town commissioners approve an updated town charter.

The problem is whether the mayor will function as a mayor or as president of the board of town commissioners.

"Mayor" Martin Burns said the commissioners were the legislative arm of government and the mayor was the executive.

"They sit up here and pass the rules and regulations and I'm supposed to execute them," Burns said.

However, Burns can also vote on legislative matters.

"Personally where I think some of the cloudiness comes from is trying to create a mayor in a commissioner form of government," Commissioner Ron Terpko said.

Burns said the charter was basically making a title change with only minor changes in his authority. His voting would not change outcomes, but it would allow the community to know where he stands on issues.

About a dozen citizens showed up at the Thurmont Senior Citizens Center on Sept. 12 to express any concerns they had about the town's new proposed charter. John Ford, charter review committee chairman, said the proposed charter is based on a state model.

Resident Sterling Bollinger said the draft would give the town commissioners the right to appoint a health officer and build a jail, which were duties enumerated in the proposed charter.

Burns explained that many of the powers of the town commissioners were optional because the language stated "may" rather than "shall."

"We put things in here we may never do, but if we need to, it gives us the authority to do that," Burns said.

Resident Calvin Sayler said, "I have an objection to anything in the charter that gives us duplicate taxation."

Resident Vic Jagow pointed out that some of the charter employee positions don't list qualifications in the section that is supposed to contain the qualifications.

This led to discussion on whether the town needed both a chief financial officer and a chief administrative officer.

Commissioner Glenn Muth pointed out that the administrative officer is not required and the commissioners have no intention of hiring one at this point. "I think we tried to figure out all the duties Mr. (Rick) May was doing then enumerate them so we can separate them into two positions later."

Another new area in the charter is a referenda process that requires 25 percent of the eligible voters to sign a petition within 60 days to be valid.

"As I recall, this was not in the original charter and I think it's a great addition to the powers of the people," Ford said.

Some of the residents thought that 25 percent was too high and should be 20 percent.

The commissioners made notes about the concerns and will discuss them over the next few weeks. A final hearing and vote on the charter is expected to take place on Oct. 3.

"There's a lot of interesting neat things to talk about. I think we're all open to anything," Burns said. "It's your bible for the town."

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