Calling Miss Manners Officials who think their position affords them a stage for tasteless humor are wrong.

May 01, 1998

WE'VE HEARD enough demeaning "jokes" about Greeks and housewives, about Asians and the elderly, about children born out of wedlock.

These offensive remarks weren't uttered at the office water cooler or at the neighborhood tavern, but at public meetings by appointed members of Carroll County's zoning bodies. Officials who are sworn to conduct themselves as impartial, respectful arbiters of important public decisions concerning growth and development should know better.

There is no excuse for such offhand comments. They weren't funny and they didn't advance discussion of serious issues. Indeed, humor can lighten the tone of a meeting. But when the remarks deprecate certain groups, the effect is the opposite, raising tension instead of lowering it.

Hoby Wolf, a member of the county Board of Zoning Appeals, got called on the carpet by the county commissioners for his recent string of tasteless comments. They expressed their concern in a meeting with him last month, after sending a letter of reprimand in March asking for an apology for his previous remarks.

Mr. Wolf, who styles himself as a "character" and humorist, says his jokes offend only those who oppose his views on development. That's no defense.

While demeaning jokes may not be immediate grounds for removal from appointed office, the commissioners have warned that such conduct is not to be tolerated. We hope that will be sufficient.

A few months ago, the commissioners sent a letter to Grant Dannelly asking him to resign from the county Planning and Zoning Commission for offensive remarks he allegedly made at a planning conference. He refused, but his subsequent public comments have been more judicious.

Offensive comments by officials erode the credibility of the boards on which these members sit in judgment, and as representatives of the public at large. Public officials must display respect for their positions -- or give them up.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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