Finksburg gives board low grades

Commissioners said unresponsive to area

June 29, 2000|By May Gail Hare | May Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

If the Carroll County commissioners were in school in Finksburg, they would never graduate.

Finksburg Planning Area Council delivered a report card to the commissioners this week, giving the three-member board poor grades in 10 of 13 areas of government service. From billboards to zoning, the council awarded five Fs, five Ds and 3 Bs. The commissioners received no As or Cs.

"Our entire executive board worked on this score card," said Donald Hoffman, council president. "We had lively, active discussions and tried really hard not to be negative." He said the group might issue the report quarterly.

The categories focused on Finksburg, at the southern entry to the county along Routes 140 and 91, and on broader issues in Carroll affecting the community, such as schools, roads and planning.

With the grades, the council delivered a letter explaining the reasoning.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he could accept failing grades in some areas, but he argued the council misunderstands county government.

"I would give the Finksburg group an F in general," said Dell. "They just don't have the facts."

The council, which has complained repeatedly that the county is not responsive to the needs of the nearly 18,000 Finksburg residents, gave the commissioners Fs on open government, zoning, environment, the master plan and on water resource management.

Hoffman said residents feel cut off from the commissioners.

"There are no evening sessions, nothing to make government available to the working public and too many closed sessions," said Hoffman. "Even the newest version of the master plan is not what is on the Internet. There is not enough to foster openness, and citizens are excluded."

After two years of work by volunteers and county staff, the commissioners recently returned their version of the master plan to the planning commission. They stripped many of the strategies from the plan, which is undergoing its first major revision in nearly 30 years.

The county's zoning administrator job is vacant, and it has not hired a permanent planner for the Finksburg area since the job became vacant more than 18 months ago.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said yesterday she was not offended by the score card. While the county strives for openness, it cannot cram daily business into evening sessions, she said.

"They are saying a lot of the things I have said," she said. "They are on target with a lot of things the county is lax in."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier grew up in Finksburg and said she "has a better understanding of the area than residents might think." She welcomed the information, adding, "It is good to hear their input and see where we might improve."

Dell, a lifelong farmer who said he has practiced agricultural conservation, took offense at a poor grade on the environment but did not argue with an F on the longstanding watershed agreement with Baltimore and the metropolitan counties. Dell has refused to sign the document because he contends it infringes on the county's ability to plan its growth.

"The city has our water rights, and now it wants our zoning rights," said Dell. "I won't be coerced into signing the agreement, and I would call that effort an A."

Gouge said she is concerned that the board is overlooking environmental issues. She fears a longtime landscape ordinance might be scrapped.

The commissioners earned Ds in responsiveness, growth management, schools, a proposed Finksburg library, and road signs.

Residents have pushed consistently for a library, which would be a sixth branch in the county's system. Dell and Gouge have supported a Finksburg library, but the project has not received funding.

Billboards are a particularly onerous issue to residents who consider themselves the county's gateway community. The council sent the commissioners a video on billboards more than a year ago and asked for interviews with the commissioners about the signs.

"To the best of our knowledge, not a single commissioner has viewed the tape, and they have not given us an interview," said Hoffman.

The commissioners received B's on roads, land preservation and parks.

"Basically, Finksburg is not a priority for these commissioners," said Dave O'Callaghan, who founded the citizens group four years ago and served two terms as president. "We are here, and we are not disappearing. We would like them to help us out."

Dell was concerned about the adverse impact publicizing the score card would have on the community. "This can be disruptive to the community, if people believe it," he said. "It is certainly not positive for the future benefit of Carroll County."

The council hoped to win the commissioners' attention, which letter writing and phone calls have failed to do, said Hoffman. "I hope they would use this for self-reflection and self-improvement and take it as an objective evaluation," said Hoffman. "We never intended to be acrimonious."

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