What makes an alternate an alternate? Carroll County: Extra planning commission member should be paid, but not get a vote.

April 18, 1997

THE POSITION OF the alternate member of Carroll County's Planning and Zoning Commission has always been an anomaly -- an ambiguous standing in which the alternate acts as a full member in most ways. The alternate often votes, even when there is a quorum of regular members, participates in discussions and is paid the same for meetings whether voting or not.

This $90 for a day's work once or twice a month is minuscule in a $168 million annual budget. An alternate must do the same homework to keep up with rules and development cases if called upon to fill in, so it's no waste of money.

County Commissioner Donald I. Dell thinks, however, that the expense is unnecessary. Commissioner Richard T. Yates appears to agree. They would eliminate the alternate's fee, except when the person is needed to make a quorum.

Despite their claim that it would save money, these commissioners are really continuing their fight with the planning commission over other issues. They voted to eliminate planning board pay for a second monthly meeting -- night sessions that moved around the county to increase citizen participation. The planning commission's outspoken opposition to that cut angered the county commissioners.

There's also the suggestion that the political activity of current alternate Deborah Ridgely provoked Mr. Dell. He denies that motive.

It is important to have a fully informed alternate on vital issues of growth and development, and important that the alternate attend as many of the regular meetings as possible because of the carryover of issues and cases. The extra cost is insignificant.

The real issue is the voting role of the alternate. It should be curbed, if only to make the planning commission consistent with other bodies. Let the alternate vote only when a quorum (four) of the regulars is not present, or perhaps when told in advance to fill in for a member unable to attend a scheduled session. She could still participate in panel discussions.

But this is a body of seven members, not of a floating eight. Members who regularly miss commission meetings, or attend only partial sessions, might consider resigning instead of repeatedly relying on the alternate.

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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