Neighbors Committee Shuts Door On Neighbors' Rights

May 29, 1991|By Peter Herman

The scene: A conference room.

The cast: Residents representing the neighborhoods around BWI Airport.

The plot: Unknown. This play was acted without an audience.

Itwasn't a dress rehearsal, either. This was the real thing. A committee was trying to make a recommendation to state aviation officials onwhether a flight path should be altered.

In the scheme of things BWI, the recommendation by the Neighbors Committee was not monumental. The change being considered was minimal and there was no guarantee the airport would go along.

The committee can't set policy. Conducting a meeting behind closed doors is necessary, its members say, to ensure the group has a consensus to present the airport.

Any dissent on the board should be handled privately, the chairman maintains. "That's the way we do things," says Tom Dixon, who represents the Harmans Civic Association. "We always have a closed meeting. We don't want a lot of excess communication."

Excess communication can be dangerous, you know.

"It is not always wise to have everything in theopen," Dixon continues. "You should not have to have an open discussion of everything. You lose your context and the discussion gets completely out of hand. The point you really want to make gets lost."

Boy, now I'm glad they didn't let the unwashed masses into the meeting. No telling what they would have thought. All this excess communication, out-of-context speech, out-of-hand discussion and points getting lost.

It is much better for the group to present its sanitized "consensus" so people don't get the wrong idea. Too many ideas could leave people confused. Just tell them the decision. Case closed.

But what about the people who have something to say, some concern they want addressed? The committee has thought of that, too.

"They can submit it in writing," Dixon said. "If they want input into what's going on, they can drop me a line and I'll bring it up to the committeemeeting in private. It's better that way."

Of course it is -- eliminates all that excess communication, out-of-context speech . . .

Not everyone, of course, likes the doors closed. One committee member, who understandably doesn't want his name used, says he is "not in favor" of the secret sessions.

Boy, such radical thinking -- I cansee why he wants to remain anonymous. But even he has a reason for meeting in private.

"We can only make recommendations," he says. "If we were making decisions, it would be different. But we're only an advisory board.It looks like we're trying to make a decision that we don't want you to know the basis for that decision. But we don't makethe decisions."

But the Neighbors Committee does make decisions. It made one last week on a recommendation. And the committee is takenvery seriously by the state, which views it as the official voice ofthe communities that are subjected day in and day out to the roar ofnoisy planes.

These 11 members represent their community associations and have the ear of the top man at the Maryland Aviation Administration, Ted Mathison.

For example, a resident showed up at last week's open session anddemanded a noise monitor for her neighborhood, something she said she has wanted for years. The committee agreed with her and within minutes, had such a commitment from Mathison, who was seated across the table.

No red tape. No phone calls being rerouted through secretaries. Immediate action. Ideal representation. Butwhy does it have to

stop there?

Understandably, they want to present a unified front; all the communities speaking as one voice. That may help their bargaining position, but it does nothing to assure residents that their views are being considered.

If people don't know the decision making process, they have no idea if their representatives are doing a good job. The consensus the board reaches may be awatered-down compromise. It may be a

sellout for future considerations.

The committee can't claim to be representing community concerns if the residents don't know what the members are thinking. Closed meetings may avoid "excess communication," but it is the duty of those chosen to speak for the masses to allow the masses all the excesscommunication they want.

Editor's note: Peter Hermann covers WestCounty and the airport for the Anne Arundel County Sun.

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