Citizens group criticized for seat on panel

Freedom organization is member of new council

`Very undemocratic'

Participation to be in nonvoting capacity

April 15, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Even as the Freedom Area Citizens Council takes a bigger role in county government, it faces criticism from the community's Old Guard.

The council, formed five years ago as a liaison between South Carroll residents and county officials, played a key role in the 2002 commissioner elections. And it soon will have a nonvoting seat on the new Carroll County Council of Governments.

Tonight, at a joint meeting, FACC and the county commissioners are scheduled to discuss other key issues, including community relations and road improvements.

But FACC also faces persistent criticism from residents such as Hoby Wolf, who says the group is neither inclusive nor representative of all of South Carroll. It should have no seat on the council of governments, he says.

"FACC is a select group and very undemocratic," said Wolf, a columnist for the Eldersburg Eagle weekly newspaper and a former member of the county zoning board. "They don't limit joining, but you can't run for office. It is not an open shop."

Ross Dangel, FACC chairman through June 2004, says nominations to the 14-member board are made by members and standing board members. Members typically serve a two-year term on the board, but vacancies occur occasionally.

"We encourage turnover and we have never not accepted a nomination," Dangel said. "We are not a government entity. Anybody can be a member and we have not locked out anybody's voice.

"We understand that we can't be voting members of the COG and that we will serve only as a representative group for residents of South Carroll. All we want is to be a voice. ... What we are is a substantial mass of people government should pay attention to."

FACC supported Republicans Dean L. Minnich, Perry L. Jones Jr. and Julia Walsh Gouge, who were elected to the board of commissioners last year. Its members also have called for stronger growth controls, and helped defeat a plan by the previous commissioner board to build a water treatment plant on Piney Run Lake.

"We are pleased with the commissioners' progress on so many of the items on our agenda," Dangel said. "Most of that which has not already been accomplished is well along in the pipeline."

FACC includes about 250 dues-paying members and several homeowners associations. Wolf is not a member, although he frequently attends monthly meetings.

"If board membership were open to everyone, then I would be the first to join," said Wolf, who questioned the commissioners on the issue at a meeting of South Carroll Republicans last week.

South Carroll, also known as the Freedom Area, is the county's most populous and fastest growing area. It is unincorporated with no official voice in the decisions that affect its nearly 30,000 residents. The Freedom-area council advocates for residents on issues related to growth, infrastructure and government relations.

Minnich says he does not want a small group calling all the shots, but does not view the Freedom Area council in that light.

"Our whole approach has been not to limit participation in government, but to expand it," Minnich said. "If I find out the council has a closed shop, it could change my mind about them."

Dangel said, "We are trying to promote positive change in the community and take positive steps for the future."

The commissioners have invited FACC and a similar association in Finksburg to participate in the council of governments, but neither neighborhood organization will have a vote.

Even nonvoting membership is unacceptable to Wolf.

He argues that because the Freedom council is not an elected body, it should not have a seat on the council of governments.

The responsibility should fall to Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents the new South Carroll district in the General Assembly, he says.

The meeting of FACC and the commissioners will be held at 7 p.m. today at Carrolltown Center in Eldersburg.

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