Too many hats for the council HOWARD COUNTY

February 16, 1993

The five members of the Howard County Council also sit as the local Zoning Board. And as the Liquor Board. And formerly, until several years ago, as the Health Board.

Clearly these are folks who don't mind putting in brutal hours for the public weal. So why not also assign them to a sanitation crew? And have them check out library books? And drive school buses?

To make the point less sarcastically, we find it hypocritical, impractical and potentially hazardous that the council members wear so many important hats.

The hypocrisy of the situation lies in how they make themselves unabashedly accessible to the public as council members while remaining unapproachable when wearing their zoning hats.

This charade is supposed to ensure an objective zoning board, free of the petty politics common to legislative give-and-take. But who's kidding whom? To pretend that politics can't spill from the council side to the zoning and liquor sides -- particularly when the same five people sit on these panels -- insults the citizens who demand and deserve a fair, impartial handling of government business.

Council member and zoning board chairman Vernon Gray raised the impracticality issue recently by noting the current system overburdens the council. A carry-over from the days of commission government, the system may have been easy to manage decades ago. But Howard's subsequent growth has been so rapid that a five-person panel already dealing with significant legislative matters is hard-pressed to tackle zoning duties, too.

As for the problem of having politicians handle zoning, that's obvious. A zoning board answerable to voters can't be trusted to make judgments that haven't been influenced by strong, sometimes overheated public protests. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that council members have accepted significantly large campaign contributions from developers, raising the fear that the people's representatives might be in the pockets of local builders.

The hypocrisy, the impracticality, the potential for hazardous conflicts -- all are too great for officials at the county and state levels to ignore. We urge them to set up independent zoning and liquor boards so the County Council can concentrate solely on legislative concerns.

That one hat is plenty.

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