The idea of public work sessions for individual Zoning Board cases began with a whimper last week during a meeting attended only by a petitioner, his lawyer and a reporter.
"It didn't feel any different than any other time. It's the same old thing," said board member Charles Feaga.
The County Council sits as both the Zoning Board and the Liquor Board, and until July 1, it deliberated on individual cases in secret. The reasoning was that these boards are quasi-judicial. and thus decisions should be made in the same environment as a courtroom.
Until a decision was written by the county Office of Law and signed by council members, no one knew how members voted in the work session.
The first public vote was unanimous, which is not unusual in cases in which there are no dissenting witnesses.
By a 4-0 vote, the Zoning Board members instructed F. Todd Taylor Jr., senior assistant county solicitor, to write a decision allowing the development of a "golf training center" on land zoned for offices or research.
"Can we change our minds?" asked Darrel Drown, a 2nd District Republican.
"Any time until the [decision] is signed, you can change your mind." said Vice Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, who presided for vacationing C. Vernon Gray.
Although there were no serious problems with the decision, Mr. Feaga said other cases may not be decided in the same way as before.
He gave as an example the decision to rescind a liquor license, which might be tempered by the knowledge that the proprietor's family would be hurt by such a decision.
Mr. Drown said he disliked the open work sessions.
"I don't think a judge would like to have the press back in his chambers when he was writing a decision," he said. 'Things become political discussions instead of real frank discussions. But I guess we'll learn to live with it."
Attorney David Carney, who argued for the golf center regulation change, said it was "nice to be in there," but otherwise, "awful."
The open meetings will subject the board to pressures from the public, lawyers and petitioners, Mr. Carney said. Those pressures would make the board more political than judicial he said.
The board's decision will allow anyone who owns land zoned for offices or research to build a small training golf course.
The petitioner Howard Health Park Associates owns 13.3 acres of such land between U.S. 29 and the end of Town and Country Boulevard in Ellicott City.