Board's Game of Hide and Speak

March 25, 1994

Once again, the Carroll County commissioners' habit of conducting business behind closed doors and with minimal consultation of other officials has gotten them into trouble.

Some two weeks after removing about a dozen recycling bins from around the county, the board of commissioners is now exploring the possibility of returning them to silence an outcry from various town officials. Had the commissioners consulted the mayors, conducted an open discussion about residents improperly throwing non-recyclable trash in the bins and considered suggestions on how to combat the problem, they wouldn't be wiping egg off their faces now. Granted, the question of the contaminated recycling bins was on the agenda for a March 3 meeting with the town mayors, which was canceled because of bad weather. But rather than waiting for another opportunity to discuss the recycling problem with municipal leaders, the commissioners acted unilaterally.

The result was predictable. Despite the problems, a number of towns liked the bins' convenience. Others, such as mayors W. Benjamin Brown of Westminster and Jack Gullo Jr. of New Windsor, pointed out that the abrupt removal sent the wrong message about the public commitment to recycling.

At the root of this mess is the commissioners' anxiety about making unpopular decisions in the open. When the commissioners decided to double fees for restaurant licenses in 1992, for example, they did not bother to include the approval of this increase in any publicly distributed minutes.

There are other instances of secretiveness. Last week, when the commissioners decided to pay for 30 people to attend a county awards dinner, they ducked behind closed doors. The commissioners were apparently afraid that the public might be upset to find out that $450 of taxpayers' money was spent on an awards function. Did the commissioners really think that by keeping this decision under wraps they would blunt any criticism? Making it secret only served to focus more attention on it.

As we have said before, Carroll's commissioners have been too fast to close meetings and to dismiss complaints about their secretive tendencies. The most recent instance over the recycling bins only reinforces our belief that the commissioners' subterfuge creates, rather than alleviates, problems.

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