Harebrained Policy in Carroll

July 05, 1991

Carroll Countians residents should give a cheer to State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman for scuttling a harebrained change in zoning enforcement policy that two of the three county commissioners issued May 16. It was a curious directive signed only by Commissioner President Donald I. Dell but backed by Vice President Elmer C. Lippy for county inspectors to focus mainly on complaints, not on trying to find zoning ordinance violations. Ostensibly, the two commissioners wanted to stop what they felt was governmental nit-picking in enforcement matters such as junk vehicles, junkyards, structures lacking county permits and illegal signs.

Incredibly, the commissioners never publicly discussed or voted this policy shift; they just issued the edict. The policy change was not even noted in the commissioners' official minutes. Commissioner Julia W. Gouge refused to sign the directive or participate in this outrageous action.

Mr. Hickman, in this instance, was alert and courageous enough to state for the commissioners the obvious: Selective enforcement of any law not only is of questionable legality but raises serious questions of fairness, possible favoritism and a public official's duty to serve the public at-large. Mr. Hickman punctuated his objections by saying vaguely that his office might have to take action if the directive weren't rescinded. And so, on Tuesday, the directive was rescinded. Hooray.

If the commissioners want to revise the county's 30-year-old zoning ordinance, that's fine. It's time, given Carroll County's strong growth and the fact that in recent years two committees have studied doing just that. But such change best derives from open public discussion, not unilateral directives of questionable birth and legality.

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