Public Input Before Public Decisions

July 19, 1995

If Americans seem increasingly cynical about the political process, some recent policy decisions in Carroll County only encourage such feelings. In the past week, actions by the county commissioners and the Westminster City Council have telegraphed the message that citizen participation in government decision-making is a messy inconvenience to be avoided whenever possible. These lawmakers seem to have forgotten that in a healthy democracy, an open and accessible deliberative process is as important as the final result.

The commissioners voted last week to locate an outdoor shooting range at the Northern Landfill, but never bothered to hear from nearby residents. While we believe the Northern site is the best option being considered, the commissioners should not have made their decision before a full airing of the benefits and liabilities of the proposed sites.

Residents living close to the landfill never had an opportunity to voice concerns. Several showed up at the meeting at which the commissioners decided the issue, but did not have time to assemble a case against the Northern Landfill site. Any presentation now will be after the fact and unlikely to change the decision. If the commissioners are interested in an orderly decision-making process, public input should come before, not after, their vote.

The case in Westminster is even more unfortunate, regarding extending the hours at Westminster's Jaycees Municipal Park ballfields.

In order to accommodate the burgeoning youth football and softball leagues and allow a full slate of games, the sponsors wanted the fields to remain lighted later into the evenings. The City Council apparently decided the issue without hearing from the parks advisory board.

At the council's June 28 meeting, a majority of the council spoke JTC out against the request. The parks board, whose job is to formulate park policy, was in the midst of making a recommendation. To its credit, the board held off so that residents living near the field had a chance to file their comments. Now that the council seems to have decided the issue, the comments are apparently irrelevant.

Government officials must give the public a meaningful voice in policy decisions. Anything less is unacceptable.

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