Face Of Howard Changes, But Politicos Still Have Two

COULNTY FORUM

Democracy Stumbles As Officials Go Blindly On

March 29, 1992|By Barbara E. Sieg For the Howard County Sun

Over 2,300 years ago, Greek philosopher Diogenes, with lantern in hand, went searching for an honest man. Wouldn't he be dismayed to knowthat Howard County voters are still searching!

Of course, to say that all of our elected representatives are dishonest would be a vastexaggeration. But to say that far too many of our elected representatives make promises to the voters that are cast aside after election day is not an exaggeration -- and that is dishonest.

My critic's pen has been at rest for many months now because of an overwhelming sense of futility at commenting on the local politicalscene.

However, the March 15 Howard County Sun article by James M. Coram on the Waverly Woods II hearings ("Hearings on new village begin contentiously"), and particularly the picture of Mary Doyle holding a sign reading "Goodbye Trees and Wetlands," broke my heart and mysilence.

What a sense of anger and anguish is portrayed in that picture: It mirrors the emotions of thousands of us in Howard County who feel disillusioned and disheartened with what we might call dysfunctional democracy in our county.

As the process of development rapidly and relentlessly changes the face of Howard County, the political climate in which these changes are occurring remains the same.

This changelessness of the political scene was brought into sharp focus by Coram near the end of his Waverly Woods story:

"Just prior toa 10:35 p.m. recess the first night, one of the 185 people who signed up to testify asked when they would have a chance to speak. Board chairman C. Vernon Gray said that opportunity would come as soon as Waverly finished presenting its witnesses. By midnight Thursday, only five had testified.

"Gray said everyone in the audience who signed up would be allowed to testify at future hearings. No written testimony would be accepted. . . . The board recessed the hearing until April, leaving the date unspecified."

How familiar! How many public hearings, over the years, have I attended with exactly the same scenario. Private citizens, clutching their homemade signs and their heartfelt testimony written at the kitchen table after the kids were in bed,stream down to the Banneker Hearing Room for a public hearing. They sign up to speak and settle into their seats.

The proponents for azoning change -- these days, almost always an up-zoning change -- always get to go first. Their battery of lawyers, planners and other "experts," one after the other, march to the podium and drone on, ad nauseum, as the clock ticks -- and ticks.

Rarely, if ever, when I numbered among those citizens awaiting their turn to speak, do I remember "time" being called on the proponents, in contrast to frequent interruptions of citizen testimony by members of the Zoning Board to call "time's up" or to urge consolidation of a presentation because of the "lateness of the hour."

After several such evenings in the Banneker Hearing Room, is it any wonder that many citizens lose heart, and hope? Is this hearing process a charade, an idle going through the motions before a body which already has its minds made up?

I don'tknow the answer, but I do know what many Howard countians perceive to be the answer: Their elected representatives are no longer listening to what they say, or hearing what they feel.

In the paraphrased words of Ernest Hemingway, and John Donne before him:

For whom does the bell toll? It tolls, my friends, for dear Howard County, once alovely place to live.

(Barbara E. Sieg lives in Ellicott City)

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