Why Was This Meeting Closed?

January 28, 1994

If Carroll County residents need another example of why the commissioner form of government leaves a great deal to be desired, they ought to consider a meeting that commissioners Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy held last Saturday afternoon to discuss the proposed Route 30 bypasses. Instead of having a public meeting about this important issue, the commissioners convened a closed powwow at Bullock's Airport Inn in Westminster.

Under normal circumstances, the commissioners could argue that they were gathering in their executive capacity, under which Maryland law allows closed meetings. However, because this luncheon included three members of the county's General Assembly delegation, three Hampstead town councilmen, the president of the Hampstead Business Association and the executive director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, it would have been difficult to construe the get-together as an executive session.

What is more galling is the fact that the subject of the meeting was not a sensitive one. The meeting's stated purpose was to map out an effective strategy for obtaining state financing for the long-awaited Hampstead and Manchester bypasses. Considering all the public debate over these projects throughout past years, a hush-hush meeting hardly seemed necessary. About the only aspects of the project that are unknown is when it might start and how much the state will pay of the estimated $55 million cost.

A number of the meeting's participants readily gave detailed accounts of the discussions afterward, so closing it to the public and press had no real impact other than to deny interested residents the opportunity to attend. Worse was the fact that some of those locked out of the meeting were not given any chance to add their ideas to the discussion.

As for the meeting's substance, it seems the participants' only decision was to delay the start of any organized campaign for state funds until March. The consensus was to let Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer respond to the county's request of last fall before town mayors, county commissioners and others bombard him with letters, petitions and telephone calls. It seems a reasonable strategy -- one that should have been discussed and decided in the open.

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