Value Of Zoning ReferendumI was dismayed and greatly...


March 13, 1994

Value Of Zoning Referendum

I was dismayed and greatly disappointed by the errors and conclusions in your Feb. 7 editorial, "Zoning by Referendum? No." As an advocate and participant of the petition effort, I would like to correct some of the impressions you may have left in readers' minds.

First, we anticipated that our petition to put the recent comprehensive zoning plan to referendum next fall would be denied. Your editorial fails to mention that five Howard County residents some months ago filed a lawsuit alleging improper delegation of authority by the County Council to themselves (sitting as the Zoning Board), and thus contesting the basis for the petition denial by the Board of Elections.

Also, petitioners did not turn their attentions elsewhere after the denial of the petition. A second petition which asked that voters consider whether the charter should be amended was circulated concurrently with the first. The charter amendment would explicitly allow the democratic checks and balances of citizen referendum and executive veto on comprehensive zoning issues. Piecemeal rezonings are specifically excluded. Your editorial incorrectly asserted that the charter amendment would require the County Council to approve all rezoning changes, which could then be taken to referendum.

Second, your editorial states that "referendums subjugate the deliberative process that elected officials must go through, replacing it with a quick-and-easy mechanism that potentially can give too much power to vocal minorities." I strongly disagree. In fact, referendums, by virtue of providing citizen recourse, enhance the likelihood that officials will listen to all pertinent testimonies and truly deliberate to develop solutions which address all concerns.

Also, if you believe that soliciting 7,100 signatures (especially when the temperatures are in the teens and 20s) is "quick-and-easy," you have little appreciation for the effort involved. . . .

Third, you state that referendums are inadequate because they are crafted by the petitioners, and are limited on the ballot to 100 words, which is insufficient for complicated issues. This simply is not so.

When issues go to referendum, they are drafted not by the petitioners, but by the County Council . . . As to the inadequacy of 100 words, voters do not expect to see a comprehensive, detailed discussion of an issue on the ballot. . . . Fourth, you argue that referendum efforts to educate residents historically have not energized the electorate. . . . Is this a reason to condemn the democratic process or even referendums? . . .

Fifth, it is naive to believe that there is any process which "forces elected officials to make informed judgments." At public hearings a year ago, it was obvious from testimony that citizens were much better informed on facts in most pertinent areas than the Department of Planning and Zoning.

And finally, voting officials out of office is a last resort, one which offers little leverage in controlling abuse of power, because that can take up to four years, and usually does not undo damage caused by bad or contentious actions. By contrast, referendums and executive veto powers offer specific and timely opportunities to redress questionable laws. These democratic powers are provided for in our Maryland constitution. Why should we be denied them by our county?

John W. Adolphsen


How to Help Wilde Lake

How has all the bitter rhetoric of last year's Howard County redistricting debate benefited Wilde Lake High School? After reviewing this year's boundary line adjustments proposal, it appears that the single-minded focus on "getting" Dorsey Hall (by Kevin Thomas, among others) may have diverted Wilde Lake's best chance for truly becoming the preeminent high school in the county. I am talking about the proposed placement of the technology magnet program at the new River Hill High School.

All the research has shown that schools with successful magnet programs become the most desirable schools in their communities -- drawing community support in time and dollars, drawing motivated, success-oriented students and first-rate teachers, and drawing families to live in close-by communities. . . What does Wilde Lake gain by absorbing almost 300 students from Dorsey Hall? The minority population is reduced by a few percentage points, but still remains the highest in the county. Average test scores (according to the boundary lines adjustments document published by the Board of Education) go up three points -- hardly a noteworthy change.

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