Fixing what isn't broken

October 09, 1992

The process for filling the 15 seats on the Baltimore County planning board has worked well over the years. So why does the county council want to change it?

The Nov. 3 ballot in the county will include a council-created charter amendment that would allow each of the seven council )) members to appoint one person to the planning board. Under the current system, the county executive appoints all 15 board members, although seven are named on the recommendation of the council members. The council also approves the appointments of the board's chairman and vice-chairman, who are recommended by the executive.

Backers of the amendment call it a small-potatoes item that would codify a process already in place, since a council member's recommendation virtually guarantees a planning board seat. Anyway, County Executive Roger Hayden has no major objections to the amendment, so why should anyone else?

Maybe Mr. Hayden should object, given the vengeful origin of the amendment. Certain council members are said to be miffed that they've had a difficult time getting some of their planning board nominees approved by the executive. In that light, their amendment hardly appears to be the bid for democracy that its advocates claim it is; it looks more like an unabashed, pique-induced grab for power by the council.

Picture a planning board with roughly half its members beholden to their councilmanic patrons, the other half to the executive's administration. So many parochial viewpoints could emerge that the board's operations might be reduced to gridlock.

Those arguing for the charter amendment might say the appointment process is already politicized because the executive names nearly every board member. It's our feeling, however, that the executive should be free to staff his own departments if he's to have a fair chance of pushing the policies that got him elected.

The planning board has two important tasks -- to make recommendations on development and, perhaps more significantly, to be the conscience of Baltimore County where building projects are concerned. For the most part, the board has handled those tasks commendably, with volunteer members putting in long hours. The county council didn't need to fix something that wasn't broken in the first place, especially with a "solution" that is baldly political and motivated by ill will.

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