When candidates for Howard County executive and the County Council debate the issues during the 2014 election season, there is one topic we'd like them to consider — removing the council from the liquor and zoning boards.
The origin of having the council also serve as representatives on these boards is likely rooted in Howard's more rural history when it was little more than a sleepy county with plenty of farming, limited commerce and a smaller population. Think of the fictitious community of Mayberry, where the sheriff is also the justice of the peace and the local judge. Comparing Howard County to Mayberry might be a reach, but the point is, the county has changed a great deal since those days when the combined work made sense.
Currently, the council issues and revokes liquor licenses as the Liquor Board, and it hears every request for zoning changes to property as the Zoning Board. While it is prudent for the council to be involved in significant issues, such as establishing the county's role in selling alcohol or determining a master growth plan, a good deal of their functions as the liquor and zoning boards could be handled by others.
In fact, in 1998 the council approved an Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board, allowing it to oversee things like liquor license applications. So there is precedent.
The County Council's main function is to serve as the county's legislature — passing laws, approving the budget and, most importantly, representing the interests of its constituents. These responsibilities can be demanding, especially when you consider that the council job is supposed to be a part-time one. And, though we don't think the council should relinquish a final say in liquor and zoning issues, a delegation of these duties makes sense.
Howard's growth points to a need for the council to change, and to shed routine matters. And while we won't pretend to have the full answer on how to change this system, we believe it should be considered. And what better time than an election cycle.