Joyce Bowlsbey

 Joyce Bowlsbey: "We need a clear vision for the future of this county and we need to start right now to act on moving forward. Cecil County is a beautiful, vibrant place to live, to work and to play. It will only stay that way if our “leaders” have a vision for the future."

If enthusiasm is any measure of success, a group of county volunteers will succeed in teaching voters a basic civics lesson before they go to the polls in November.

Joyce Bowlsbey, a retired W.L. Gore associate who chairs a group appointed by the Cecil County Commissioners last year to write a new form of government for the county, is serious about educating voters about the task at hand this election.

"Charter government gives voters more power than commissioner government," Bowlsbey told a group of community leaders and business people Thursday at a Cecil County Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Perryville.

"Our goal is to educate voters about the difference between county commissioner government (current) and charter government (proposed) before the November election," she said.

Bowlsbey and her committee of eight others started their education campaign last month by meeting with individual organizations who have asked for information about the proposal that will appear on the election ballot Nov. 2. It will be a question for voters to say "yes", or "no" to changing Cecil County government from commissioner to charter.

They are also halfway through a series of six forums open to the public at different locations all over Cecil County. The next forum will be April 20 at the Cecilton Fire Hall. Two others are scheduled for May 6 at Bohemia Manor High School and May 11 at Rising Sun Library.

"It's not an easy task," said charter board member Chris Ann Szep, who is a vice president at Cecil College. Szep and the other charter board members have been making presentations for the last few weeks and have learned that many people do not understand what's going on.

"We'll keep talking to them until they get it," she said Thursday.

After months of studying every charter government in the state of Maryland and listening to government experts, the charter board took months to write the 24-page plan, while holding open meetings and soliciting ideas from the public.

"We still want your ideas," Bowlsbey said. "This (charter) is a living document that can be changed by the people at anytime," she said.

Bowlsbey said the group took great pains to write it in as simple and clear language as possible. "We want everyone to read it and understand it," she said. The entire proposal is available online at www.ccgov.org, or www.friendsofcharter.com.

Friends of Charter is a non-profit group that organized earlier this year to function as a fund-raising group to accept donations to allow the charter board to advertise and promote the ballot question prior to the election. Their goal is $30,000.

Cecil County has tried to change from the current county commissioner form of government to either a charter form or a code home-rule form four other times, but every effort has failed to get enough votes. The last attempt was made in 1998.

"We think it absolutely has to pass this time," Bowlsbey said.

The charter board members agree that this proposal would give the Maryland General Assembly less power over Cecil County, allow one leader to give vision and direction instead of a committee of five (current), but provide checks and balances from five council members elected by voters in each district.

"Charter is more efficient and does not cost more than five commissioners," Bowlsbey said. Her group provided an example than shows the charter proposal would actually cost about $53,200 less each year to operate than the current commissioner form of government.

Any group interested in requesting a presentation from members of the charter board can contact Vicky Rinkerman at Cecil County Administration Building in Elkton at 410-996-8310.

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