2 Carroll commissioners criticize their colleague Brown's private meeting on adequate-facilities bill possible 'waste' of time

December 10, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown may have wasted his time last week by holding a private meeting with key department heads, a land use lawyer and a bank president to draw up a memorandum of understanding on the county's proposed adequate-facilities law.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates said yesterday that they did not learn until this week that Brown had conducted the five-hour meeting at Bear Branch Nature Center on Thursday.

At the time, Dell and Yates were attending the winter convention of the Maryland Association Counties in Baltimore.

"It was a strange time for him to hold the meeting," Yates said. "I guess with two cats away, the mice had free rein. He knows full well he can't get anything done without us. I just hope this hasn't been a horrendous waste of the staff's time. We have a rule that you don't call the staff unless another commissioner is present."

Brown said he intentionally excluded the other two commissioners from the closed-door meeting. If one or both had attended, the commissioners would have been required to hold the meeting in public in accordance with the state's open meetings law.

Although the commissioners and representatives of the building industry had met in public previously to go over the bill, they had been unable to resolve a major sticking point.

Brown said he felt he might be able to accomplish in private what the three commissioners could not in public.

'Trading brickbats'

The commissioners and developers have been "trading brickbats for years," Brown said. "We needed to be away from the public posture where we could have some frankness and openness."

Brown said his fellow commissioners are making "a mountain out of a molehill" about the process and the five-point memorandum of understanding the meeting yielded, which was initialed by him and Westminster attorney Clark R. Shaffer, who frequently represents developers in planning and zoning issues.

"Everything will be put on the table for public discussion," Brown said. "This [memorandum] does not constitute an amendment to the ordinance."

Shaffer said his initialing the memorandum did not indicate that he was speaking for the building industry, but rather indicated what he, Brown, Carroll County Bank and Trust Co. President Michael Oster, the county attorney and the county directors of budget, economic development, planning and public works had agreed to.

Brown, Oster and Shaffer had met privately with many of the same key aides a week earlier, only to discover that they failed to agree on what had been decided. This time, they decided to write it down.

"I don't see anything wrong with a county commissioner calling together people he believes have something bright to say regarding an important public issue," Shaffer said. "I don't know how he would know what we think other than to ask."

Brown never made it explicit, but Shaffer said he thinks the commissioner assumed that if Shaffer and Oster could agree on a memorandum, a majority of builders would find it logical and follow suit.

Recorded lots

Shaffer and Oster had publicly criticized a part of the proposed bill that would bar owners of recorded lots from building on them if the area failed to pass adequate-facilities tests for schools, roads and public safety.

Property owners may obtain building permits for recorded lots now unless the owners have formally agreed to develop the lots in stages. Shaffer and Oster wanted recorded lots to be exempt from the bill, which would happen under the memorandum of understanding they agreed to last week.

Dell and Yates said they resent what they say is Brown's attempt to rewrite the ordinance without them.

A closed, private meeting with department heads is "perfectly fine, apparently, if 'King' Brown is running the show," Dell said.

"I want to hear for myself from the people who are affected by [the proposed law], not someone else's interpretation," he said.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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