Meeting is a lesson in participatory democracy

January 12, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Community activists should attend public meetings and volunteer to serve on county advisory boards to help make their concerns known to government officials, Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy told a group of 15 concerned citizens last night.

"The only way to make a democracy work is to have participation," Mr. Lippy said to the Carroll County Civic Association. "Democracy is a participatory sport."

The organization -- which has rallied against a waste-to-energy plant at the Northern Landfill and the extension of Interstate 795 into Carroll County, among other projects -- had asked the commissioner to speak about how they could have better access to the government.

Mary Lewis, one of the group's leaders, also told Mr. Lippy she was concerned the organization was being perceived in a negative light because it opposed so many things. The commissioner said group members should concentrate on the positive things they had accomplished.

"For one thing, you changed a stubborn commissioner's mind on something that was very important to him," Mr. Lippy said, referring to his change of heart about the proposed incinerator at the landfill. "I was, from a technical standpoint, in favor of the incinerator and, from a technical standpoint, I'm still in favor of an incinerator."

But articles that group members and Westminster Planning Director Thomas B. Beyard sent helped him reconsider, Mr. Lippy said.

An article from the Wall Street Journal pointed out that incinerators are costly to build and that municipalities are spending large amounts of tax money to buy trash from other jurisdictions to run them, he said.

"We have the ridiculous situation that people who have incinerators are scrounging around for trash from any place they can get it," Mr. Lippy said. "And, they are paying a premium price to get that trash."

Mr. Lippy said that before last night's meeting, a county adviser to the Board of Zoning Appeals had called him concerned that an activist group would pack a hearing on the installation of 24 radio towers for cellular telephones.

"They should realize that we don't take the pro comments and the con comments and weigh them and whoever gets the most gets the nod," he said, quoting the county official he declined to name. "We are a quasi-judicial group and don't want any influence."

Mr. Lippy told his audience -- which has agreed to join Cathleen Heisch's group of South Carroll residents in their fight against the towers -- that he told the official the organization has the right to attend the meeting.

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