The future of Arlington County's governing system has been thrown into doubt as the county's election staff tallies up signatures on a petition that would put a change-of-government referendum on the ballot this fall.

The petition requires signatures from 10 percent -- or 14,350 -- of the county's more than 143,000 registered voters. The county's voter registration office on Monday had verified nearly 9,000 of the more than 16,400 petition signatures submitted last week.

The Committee for a Better Arlington, a group funded by the county's public safety unions, is the driving force behind the petition. The committee is attempting to change Arlington's government from its current "County Manager Plan" to a "County Board" system.

Under its current setup, a county board consisting of five at-large members governs Arlington. The board members oversee the work of the county manager, an appointed official who is responsible for running most of the county's agencies.

Arlington is the only county in Virginia that operates using the county manager plan.

The proposed system would transfer power from the county manager's office to the board, whose members would represent districts rather than the whole county.

Proponents of the petition say the current system gives too much power to the county manager, who does not hold elected office. Petition supporters also argue the current at-large board member system leaves less-populous parts of the county without adequate representation.

County Republicans in particular support the change because it would offer their party's representatives a better chance for election in the predominantly left-leaning county.

But Board Chairman Jay Fisette said the proposed changes would open the County Board to corruption.

"I think it's a terrible idea," Fisette said of the petition. "The potential to inject patronage into the system and to undermine the merit-based civil service system is significant."

The County Board currently appoints the county manager and the five-member civil service commission, which handles all other personnel hiring. Under the proposed system, the board would have more direct authority to influence agency personnel decisions.

Fisette also said the current government system is afforded many powers -- such as a state statute that guarantees aspects of the county's affordable housing program -- that would no longer apply if the current system went away.

Calls to the Committee for a Better Arlington for a response were not returned.