Columbia Council in a bunker HOWARD COUNTY

October 21, 1992

It is too bad the Columbia Council needed a legal opinion to confirm the obvious -- that it shouldn't have insisted that one of its members had the right to vote on whether he had a conflict of interest on an issue before the council.

Just as we believe there is no question that council member Joseph Merke should not vote to allow a proposed golf course that would abut his property, so too it would seem clear -- without benefit of counsel -- that Mr. Merke should not be voting on whether he thinks any conflict exists.

Poor judgment, however, seems to be the hallmark of those council members who have stood by their regrettable convictions on this issue. They show few signs of realizing their mistake or changing direction.

As it is, rather than rescind their previous action because they suddenly realized they owed it to the public they represent, the group will probably stand deadlocked on the golf course issue when it meets tomorrow, merely on the basis of a legal technicality.

To make matters worse, council members cannot even agree on what being deadlocked will mean. Some suggest that such a situation will allow Mr. Merke to vote on the golf course. Others want a legal opinion on that matter as well.

This ludicrous infighting over something that should be clear-cut tarnishes the council and almost any decision it now makes on the golf course. Already accusations are flying over what may lie behind the wrangling over Mr. Merke.

It appears a faction of the council that wants the Columbia Association to build the golf course needs Mr. Merke's vote to have its position win the day. If this is true, and if some council members appear willing to discredit themselves and the body to which they were elected to achieve their goal, something will have to be done to bring repute back to council proceedings.

Unfortunately, Mr. Merke may be right that he needs to resign from the council so that someone who does not live next to the proposed project site can step in to represent the community.

That alone, however, may not do away with the mindset that caused this disgraceful episode. The solution to this problem may lie down the road -- at the ballot box.

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