Room for Builder on Zoning Appeals?

March 15, 1995

The Howard County Council is on the horns of a classic political dilemma when it votes on confirming builder Jerry L. Rushing's nomination to the county Board of Appeals. The nomination of Mr. Rushing, who lives in Savage, raises intriguing questions about possible conflicts of interest should he serve on the board, which rules on exemptions to county land-use regulations.

Beyond concern that Mr. Rushing might use the position to further his personal business interests is the larger question of whether he would unfairly favor the development community, aiding and abetting a political environment favoring unbridled growth even if his own business would not directly benefit.

Not surprisingly, opposition has surfaced to Mr. Rushing, who was nominated by Councilman Dennis Schrader. The council is to vote on the nomination Monday.

Growth-control advocate John W. Taylor, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the council last fall, has asked the lawmakers to consider the potential for a conflict, adding that Mr. Rushing fTC seems to have more of a business interest in the Board of Appeals than the average citizen."

One factor to be considered -- and it serves as a counterpoint to the opposition to Mr. Rushing -- is the danger of prohibiting a certain class of people from appointment strictly on the basis of profession. This sort of "litmus test" is dangerous because it tends to put political ideology ahead of qualifications. One can't assume that Mr. Rushing, as a lifelong resident of the county, is in favor of a build-at-all-cost philosophy. Furthermore, his work experience could prove invaluable on a board where no builders have served in recent memory.

Also, because ruling out Mr. Rushing's appointment would play into the hands of those who have attempted to vilify members of the development community, it should be avoided. It's a distasteful brand of no-growth McCarthyism.

Unless Mr. Rushing has violated county regulations in his work history, his nomination should be given the seriousness and respect accorded any other.

Turning thumbs down on an appointment strictly on the basis of occupation is unfair. Today, it may be builders who are singled out. Tomorrow, it could be someone else.

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