Waverly Woods Opposition Rooted In Distrust Of Process

COUNTY FORUM--Opinions by and for county readers

October 13, 1991|By John Powers For | John Powers For,The Howard County Sun

The writer of "Waverly Woods: dream or nightmare" (Howard County Sun, Sept. 29) might well find it ironic that Donald Reuwer's newest proposed development is opposed by the very same people who are occupying his previous developments. Ironic it is, but not surprising when you consider the depth of cynicism about local government in Howard County.

Many people in this area are convinced that the council will not consider the project solely on its merits, that the integrity of the process by which zoning requests are granted by the council has been so deeply corrupted that a fair and impartial hearing of the issues is just not possible.

Ask any 10 homeowners in Howard County how developers manage to get the permission of the council to do their developments, and a significant number will tell you that the developer's request is a "done deal," that the council has been "bought." It now appears that this

is the truth, that the council has been "bought." How has this comeabout?

Consider first the intentional isolation of council members when they must act as the county's Zoning Board. As Paul Johnson ofthe County Law Office explains, the council must act as a quasi-judicial body, in somewhat the same manner as a court. As our courts mustbe free of the outside influences that might be brought to bear by anyone, including homeowners, taxpayers, or other vocal citizens, so too must the Zoning Board (who are really the council members).

That is why the letter you write to your council member about a specificzoning issue about to come before the commission is intercepted by astaff member, and why it will not be read by the council. Individualhomeowners are not allowed to communicate with council members regarding petitions currently in the process of being reviewed because it would corrupt the commission members' unbiased, impartial judgment. The intent of this arrangement is to isolate zoning members from all influences; the result in fact is to isolate them only from the influence of homeowners.

During election time, and even before submitting their proposals to the county, developers are permitted to make campaign contributions to those same council wannabes. As Johnson further explains, there is nothing illegal in this, as long as the proper public disclosures are made, and the papers are filed with the county and state.

For example, there is no conflict of interest, as far as the laws of Howard County are concerned, for a developer to contribute money to the election campaigns of several council hopefuls in September 1990 and then submit a development proposal to be acted on bythose same council members in December 1991.

But, as Johnson willtell you, it is entirely inappropriate for the individual homeowner to write a letter to his council member regarding any particular proposal submitted by any of those developers.

Is this strange, or what?

It is worse than strange; it is statutory hypocrisy. It is hypocrisy to say that one can form an unbiased "judicial" body (a zoning commission) from a group of people (council members) who owe their political existence to those with special interests (development groups).

Can any council members honestly say that, having once acceptedcampaign money from these developers, they are not inclined to give them what they want when they consider their proposals as the zoning commission? Can any council members say they have not compromised their integrity as a representative of the people of Howard County by taking money

from developers or their agents?

I think it is time for each Howard County council member to be forthcoming about his indebtedness to development interests and give a full and public accounting of the campaign contribution money he have accepted from anyone connected to the GTW group, to American Properties, or to any of theirrelatives or agents.

If council members are unwilling to do this,I think The Howard County Sun should do it for them, well before thetime that the council will meet as the zoning commission to rule on the GTW's Waverly Woods II proposal. The Sun would thereby make a significant contribution toward restoring public confidence in the process by which zoning changes are made and development proposals allowedto go forward.

Let's be entirely open about who has taken money from whom. If there are facts to be known (and there are), let the facts be known. Let's have some real honesty, for a change.

(John Powers lives in Ellicott City.)

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