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New charter empowers Thurmont voters

Jeremy Hauck

(4/12) Thurmont’s new town charter – a document that describes how the town will be governed and how its finances are to be managed – took effect Wednesday, 50 days after the board of commissioners voted 3-1 to replace the 1986 version of the same document.

Commissioner Glenn Muth voted against adopting the ordinance on Feb. 20, telling the board of commissioners that the provisions creating two new offices – a chief administrative officer and a chief financial officer – that report to the mayor, would give the mayor’s office too much power.

‘‘It’s changing the form of government from weak mayor to strong mayor," Muth said at a regular town meeting.

Speaking for the majority at the meeting, Commissioner Bill Blakeslee said, ‘‘We’ve already spoken about [the charter] 50 times."

The new charter strengthens the mayor’s position in town government and allows residents to bring any issue, ordinance or board decision to a referendum.

‘‘The goal was to give people more say in what’s going on – if they want," Muth said on Tuesday.

Town officials, including current commissioners Muth and Blakeslee, began rewriting the charter about four years ago, according to Muth. Members of the charter/code review committee inserted the language that allows registered voters residing in Thurmont to ‘‘request that specific questions, issues, resolutions or ordinances with the exception of contracts entered into by the board, be subject to a referendum."

To bring an issue to referendum, Thurmont residents have to circulate a petition and gather the signatures of at least 25 percent of the town’s registered voters in a 60-day period.

According to current voter registration numbers provided by the Frederick County Board of Elections, that would mean collecting 861 signatures.

Once the signatures are verified, the town would put the issue on the ballot for the next general election or schedule a special election, to be held at the town’s expense, according to chief financial officer Rick May.

If town residents vote to repeal an ordinance passed by the board of commissioners, the board can reintroduce the item one year after the referendum vote.

Mayor gains voting power

The residents of Thurmont aren’t the only people who now have more of a voice in town government. The new charter allows the mayor to introduce, second and vote on any matter coming before the board of commissioners.

Under the previous charter, the mayor was called the president of commissioners and was allowed to ‘‘vote to break or create a tie vote.

‘‘The president may not vote to create a tie and then cast the deciding vote," the charter stated.

Muth said that the language in the new charter would likely affect decisions by the four-member board of commissioners only when a member is absent from a meeting.

‘‘It turns out that it doesn’t matter whether the mayor can vote or not," Muth said. ‘‘We were able to prove to ourselves that it didn’t make any difference."

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