Get council off the boards Howard County: High time to relieve lawmakers of liquor and zoning responsibilities.

November 25, 1996

FOR TOO LONG, the Howard County Council has been saddled with too many chores. In addition to their primary role as lawmakers, the five council members also comprise the county's liquor board and zoning board.

It appears that the council finally may get to ditch its liquor board job, if a proposal on that matter reaches Annapolis in the upcoming legislative session and is approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

The council ought not be burdened with the task of approving, suspending and repealing licenses for liquor establishments or imposing restrictions on these operations. Neither should it act as the zoning board to make land-use decisions that are better left to an appointed, rather than elected, body.

The five council members have not yet agreed on how to choose a new liquor board, and that issue must be resolved before the county's delegation to the state legislature will introduce the measure.

Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Columbia Democrat, proposes that council members and the county executive jointly select liquor board members. She suggests that each council member recommend three people from his or her district. The executive would choose from the nominees and the five-member board would be approved by the entire council.

Council members want more control, a system by which each would appoint one member from his or her district, subject to approval by the executive. If they insist upon maintaining political control, the proposal could falter.

Council Chairman Darrel Drown, an Ellicott City Republican, said at a public hearing last week that the thought of giving the county executive more power "causes me to pause, and causes other council members to pause." But he suggested that he was willing to surrender that authority if it meant the end of the council's liquor board duties.

The council has made progress since last year. Councilman Charles Feaga, a Republican who once balked at the idea, is a supporter now. If the details can be worked out, an appointed liquor board might become reality. Equal attention must be brought to creating a separate zoning board, where independence, not weariness of the job, is at issue.

Pub Date: 11/25/96

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