Some farewell advice to Carroll County


March 31, 1996|By Brian Sullam

IT'S DIFFICULT to say goodbye.

For nearly three and a half years, I have been writing a weekly column in The Sun for Carroll County. This will be my last one.

As of tomorrow, I am being reassigned to Anne Arundel County, where I will write editorials and a weekly column. Another member of The Sun's editorial department, Mike Burns, will take over in Carroll.

Since I was notified of the move several weeks ago, I have been thinking about this particular column. The more I thought about what I should write, the more daunting the task became.

At first, I thought I should read a few well-crafted, well-known farewell addresses. George Washington's and Dwight Eisenhower's came to mind. After mulling it over a day or two, I rejected that idea. Instead, I decided that I should share my thoughts as I have done in my previous 160 columns.

Carroll's future

Carroll countians have to make a very clear political statement on the question of growth. Do the residents really want to control the explosive residential development that has turned farmland and woods into ticky-tacky subdivisions? Or do they believe that property owners have the right to develop their lands to their maximum value?

Their answer needs to be clear and unequivocal because county policymakers are headed in opposite directions. As the county commissioners are developing a stringent comprehensive growth plan, the county delegation in Annapolis is pushing legislation that would undermine that effort. Owners of farmland do have a right to develop their land, but do Carroll's other residents want to exempt those parcels from sensible controls that govern all other land in the county?

If controlling growth and ensuring that schools, roads and public facilities keep pace with the population is important, voters should elect people prepared to make the tough choices to put such policies in place. At present, a number of local politicians say they favor measures to protect Carroll's rural character but consistently vote for measures that will transform the county into another characterless suburbia.

The split between the commissioners and the county's State House delegation brings up another point.

Time for charter gov't.

Carroll needs charter government. The days when part-time commissioners could run this county are over. Theirs is a full-time job. Also, county officials don't need to be second-guessed by the senators and delegates, as is often the case now.

Enact a charter with a county executive to run the county and a council to create policy. Give them the responsibility for managing county business and hold them accountable. The sooner this change is made, the better.

Carroll residents also must recognize that their schools and libraries are fabulously successful and deserve continued support. Both achieve remarkable results with bare-bones spending levels. Efforts to slice these budgets thinner still will destroy these fine institutions that enhance the quality of life for residents, their children and grandchildren.

Carroll countians also need to discard some of the simple-minded sloganeering that dominates public discussion. Some of this thinking has blinded residents to the real problems the community faces and prevented development of appropriate solutions.

For example, in the four years I have worked in Carroll, the popular conception -- or misconception -- is that the county is going to the dogs.

Life here is good

We all tend to remember the past with great nostalgia. By most objective measures, life in Carroll is still very good.

Despite the explosion in population, the county is still the most scenic in the Baltimore region. With the exception of the billboards along major thoroughfares and unsightly strip development along Route 140 in Finksburg and Westminster and along Route 26 in Eldersburg, the county looks wonderful. The countryside is still full of fields, woods and ponds.

Don't give up the fight to keep it attractive. The battle is too important to lose. If citizens participate in the public policy-making process, they can maintain the quality of their surroundings.

Government is nothing more than the collective expression of its citizens. If people are not happy with the way things are, an arena exists where changes can be made. The outpouring of people for recent hearings on the budget and proposed growth management ordinance shows the power of participation.

Don't look for perfection, look for progress. As long as humans are involved, there won't be perfection. But we should all strive to improve our institutions, our governments, ourselves.

In that regard, I want to thank the people I have met and the friends I have made in Carroll County. You have given me insights I lacked, forced me to think deeply about a large number of issues and enriched my life.

Thank you.

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

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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