It's not the same tune, or even the same hymnal


February 18, 1996|By BRIAN SULLAM

WHO REALLY represents the political will of Carroll County citizens?

At present, the county's elected officials officials are sending a mixed and muddled message about this.

At least two commissioners -- W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates -- are pursuing a strategy they maintain will control residential growth. They have retained the services of Robert Freilich, a nationally known land use lawyer, to develop a growth management plan and devise strict controls on further development.

Meanwhile, members of the county's delegation to the General Assembly are introducing measures that would thwart the commissioners' plans.

Sen. Larry E. Haines has sponsored one such measure, which would exempt subdivisions built on agricultural zoned land from the county's adequate facilities law. Mr. Haines has also introduced an amendment to the county's forest conservation law that would remove a requirement that landowners who log their land sign "a declaration of intent" that they would not subdivide their land for seven years.

While the commissioners have never enthusiastically endorsed the forest conservation law, passage of this bill would allow developers to get around the ordinance. If the commissioners are interested in slowing development and preserving woodlands, this legislation is not in keeping with that direction.

The split between the commissioners and the delegation is not confined to broad policy questions involving growth. They also extend to basic questions about finance.

The commissioners are scrambling once again to balance the county budget. The cost of virtually every department, service and program is under scrutiny. In addition, the commissioners are trying to develop new revenue sources without raising the property tax rate.

The county's state legislators, however, are behaving as if their jurisdiction is awash in money and not facing a budget crisis. The delegation killed legislation the commissioners wanted for a referendum to prove public support for a 1 percent real estate transfer tax. Even though the voters would have made the final ruling on whether to create this tax, the delegation members decided to short-circuit the democratic process. In addition, they made it all the more difficult for the county to finance its farmland preservation program and infrastructure development.

Summer football camp

When it comes to building professional football stadiums in Maryland, the commissioners and the legislative delegation are not only singing from different pages, they aren't even using the same hymnal. Enticing Baltimore's new National Football League team to use Carroll as its site for summer training has become one of Mr. Yates' top priorities. He has instructed the county's economic development director, Jack Lyburn, to identify possible sites and explore the feasibility of donating one of the sites to the team.

While Mr. Yates might be entertaining visions of a professional football team's returning to Carroll for summer practice, as did the Colts of yore, the county's delegation is working overtime to defeat the construction of Baltimore's proposed football stadium. From a rhetorical standpoint, the delegation acts as though defeat of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's two-stadium deal will preserve Western civilization as we know it.

Without a football stadium, there is little likelihood that Art Modell's yet-to-be-renamed team will stay in Baltimore. Without him and his team, there is no considering a football practice facility in Carroll.

Working at cross purposes

These divergent positions on important issues constitute more than a failure to communicate. They are vivid examples of elected officials working at cross purposes and creating the equivalent of government meltdown.

Politicians make much of the fact that they reflect the will of the people, yet Carroll's elected officials seem to represent a public of two minds. In just about every public forum he addresses, Mr. Yates proclaims that he knocked on the doors of more than 4,500 households and the overwhelming majority said they wanted growth to be stopped. Mr. Haines, a Realtor, hears the voices of a much different constituency -- one that favors continued residential development. Which one really represents the majority of residents? There is no accurate way of telling because the last election did not provide a clear mandate.

Voters don't have to wait until 1998 to clarify their message, at least not when it comes to growth. South Carroll residents, who feel swamped by population growth, have demanded -- and received -- a role in revamping the Freedom District mini-plan, which has been the blueprint for the area's land use patterns during the past two decades. As the revamping of the county master plan unfolds, all other county residents will have the opportunity to make their views heard. They can send a clear and unambiguous message to the county's politicians.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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