Hampstead's Gag Rule

November 11, 1994

Something is out of kilter when the chairman of the planning and zoning commission in the town of Hampstead says that public comment isn't "required" at commission meetings. Just because residents have been rambunctious in recent meetings is no reason to eliminate public input on matters before the commission. Far from discouraging broad discussion of planning matters, town officials would be better off to encourage more of it.

Isn't the commission a "public" body acting on behalf of the townspeople of Hampstead? Shouldn't those who live with the consequences of the commission's actions have some say during its deliberations? If the public is excluded from commenting, does that mean the commissioners will only hear from developers, landowners and others with business before them?

If "yes" is the answer to those rhetorical questions, then Hampstead residents will probably rise up in revolt. It may be true that state law does not require public input -- the attorney general's office has yet to issue a formal opinion on that question -- but the planning commission should take it upon itself to solicit opinions.

Making development decisions in a vacuum goes against the current political currents and common sense. People want -- and deserve -- to have a say in major community decisions. Just about every other Carroll municipality recognizes this fact. As a practice, the planning commissions of Carroll's other towns encourage resident participation at meetings. Even though it often must cover a lengthy agenda at its meetings, the county planning commission also accepts public comment.

Of late, the Hampstead planning commission agenda has seen a number of hotly contested issues. Chairman Arthur Moler, who is also a town councilman, apparently is upset that some of the meetings have become feisty. When public comment was stifled or placed at the end of a meeting, the members of the audience were more agitated and disruptive than those meetings where they had the opportunity to participate.

If Mr. Moler wants to pacify noisy Hampstead residents, allowing them to express their thoughts is the best strategy. If he persists in excluding them, they might take out their frustration by voting him out of office come spring.

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