Dell, group lock horns

Official complains of snub at meeting of planning council

Not invited to speak

Members say leader had opportunity to respond to critics

July 30, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

There is a failure to communicate between Commissioner Donald I. Dell and the Finksburg Planning Area Council, and nowhere was it more apparent than at Thursday's council meeting.

Dell showed up unannounced at the monthly session and took notes throughout a state highway presentation about Finksburg's congested main intersection and a discussion of local government that was critical of the three-member board of commissioners.

The commissioner left peeved, complaining that he had not been given an opportunity to speak.

"I came to say something; I had a list and I would have challenged them, particularly after all that assault on the commissioners," said Dell. "But I had no opportunity to respond."

Last month, the council rated the commissioners in 13 areas of service, giving them poor grades in 10 categories, including an F for open government and a D for responsiveness. All three commissioners received copies of the report card and a letter of explanation. None of them replied to the council.

When asked to comment on the ratings last month, Dell told The Sun: "I would give the Finksburg group an F in general. They just don't have the facts."

The council's review Thursday of the grading system did nothing to alter Dell's opinion. It also gave him no opportunity to publicly rebut the criticism, he said.

Donald Hoffman, council president, said Dell had not asked to be on the agenda, but, like all those in attendance, the commissioner had ample opportunity to respond. Throughout the discussion, Hoffman said, he frequently asked whether anyone had questions or comments.

"All Dell had to do was raise his hand like anyone else," said council member Doris Edwards. "I really expected him to raise his hand."

Dell said he expected an invitation to speak and he did not raise his hand during the meeting.

"I was not going to push myself on them," he said.

Hoffman said he did not want the 90-minute session to become a debate about the scorecard. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the general membership of the rationale for the grading and to discuss the intersection of Routes 140 and 91.

"This was not the forum for him," said Hoffman.

A few people spoke with the commissioner after the meeting.

"He said we were immature, unprofessional and that we did not understand government," said Edwards. "When we asked about unresponsiveness, Dell said he only responds to letters from prominent citizens."

The commissioner brought notes and continued to jot down his thoughts throughout the session. He said he had hoped to correct some misconceptions.

"These people don't have the facts, and they don't understand the demands on the commissioners' time," he said.

The commissioners are routinely invited to the council sessions by way of its newsletter. That notice drew Dell to the session, he said. Last month, he attended a community meeting in South Carroll and was asked to speak.

"There has to be some reciprocity here," said Hoffman. "We work on a structured basis. If Dell wanted to speak, he could have called and told us."

The council might find itself in need of Dell's help, if it wants improvements to Finksburg's main intersection. The crossing of the two state highways has been given an F rating for several years because of the delays drivers face during rush hours.

One remedy would be additional lanes to handle the 44,000 vehicles that pass through the intersection daily, said state highway officials. But that improvement "is far down on the priority list with elected officials," said Mary Dietz, a regional planner for the state. Local officials like Dell would have to push for funding.

"In Montgomery County, they are sitting through 10 [stoplight] cycles instead of three," said Dietz. "There are tons of F's throughout the state."

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