The high cost of public participation? Carroll County: Eliminating community planning sessions at night is a false economy.

February 17, 1997

THE DECISION of the Carroll County commissioners to cancel community night meetings held by the Planning and Zoning Commission defies all reason.

To save $7,000 a year (for planning commission member fees), the pinch-penny commissioners voted to eliminate the monthly planning board meetings rotated around the county to expand public information.

The unexpected decision is contrary to the wishes of the planning commission majority, who are considering continuing these outreach sessions -- without pay if necessary.

The announced reason for cutting the night sessions is that public input is assured by new rules that invite public comment at Subdivision Advisory Committee meetings, which are held to review technical requirements of projects.

That's enough citizen involvement, according to Commissioner Donald Dell, who is vexed that nighttime planning meetings draw the usual complaints from the usual outspoken activists. "The second meeting is getting expensive and has served its purpose," he said.

As is common in this unwieldy three-commissioner system, the vote was not unanimous, with Richard Yates joining Mr. Dell. Benjamin Brown, who had time to grandstand earlier that day with his piggyback-tax rollback proposal, did not stick around for the citizen input vote. Then he railed against the decision to cancel the night planning meetings and declared he would seek a reversal.

Perhaps Mr. Brown believes he has a faithful ally in Mr. Yates, despite their obvious differences on spending. Or perhaps he feels the spirit of accommodation and cooperation among the three commissioners during his recovery from a heart operation last year will continue. He is sadly mistaken, in either case.

The public input system adopted by the commissioners is on trial for six months, beginning in April. It requires public notice of proposed developments and of the (daytime) SAC meetings to review them, but its worth remains to be proven and changes may be needed.

This is no time to throw out the monthly night planning meetings, which draw significant crowds of interested taxpayers. They are worth more to the county citizenry than some of the sessions of the Carroll commissioners, the highest paid commissioners in Maryland.

Pub Date: 2/17/97

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