County commissioners get pushback on removing Board of Zoning appeals ads from newspaper

A public hearing was held on Board of Zoning Appeals newspaper advertisements on Thursday, Nov. 15 after the Board of County Commissioners expressed uncertainty as to whether to continue using them as in the past, decrease the requirement from two advertisements to one, or remove them entirely.

The possible change comes from a recommendation from the county attorney earlier this year to remove the requirement, as Carroll requires BZA notices be published in newspaper advertisements twice before hearings — in addition to mailing the notice to all adjoining property owners, posting a notice of the hearing on the property, and posting the notice in county office building and on its website — and the state does not.


“Quite frankly [the newspaper] makes mistakes,” County Attorney Tim Burke told the Planning Commission earlier this week. “They have not run ads when they’re supposed to — even when materials arrive on time, we have had to postpone the Crossroads hearing.

“We think by posting on the county website and continuing to do the other methods of notice ... we think that would give sufficient notice to the public,” he said.

Tim Thomas, the Baltimore Sun Media Group senior vice president of business development attended the public hearing to speak on behalf of the Carroll County Times, the newspaper for the region the company acquired in 2014.

“The Carroll County Times is a very important part of our business,” said Thomas. “That’s why I'm here today. I am here to testify against weakening any notices to our citizens. This includes not cutting them in half, and certainly not cutting them out all together.

“We freely admit we have financial interest here,” he said, “but it’s not charity. The amount of money that's spent on public notice is $4,000 annually. It provides a valuable service for leaders and informing our citizens of upcoming government actions — and the mission of the Carroll County Times is to provide the local news, and the advertisements that Carroll County residents need to be informed citizens."

Thomas said with 13 percent of the county without internet access, he does not want to see the citizens lose the “serendipity of seeing a public notice.”

Also to speak on behalf of the newspaper was Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association.

“I want to share some points about public notice,” she said. “It is a mechanism by which the government informs citizens of pending actions that may affect them. The way public notices get out is by newspapers, and in this day and age it’s newspaper and online.

“Our membership firmly believes it’s important to make notices as widely disseminated and read and possible,” said Snyder. “When you're talking about zoning appeals, that's one of the most contentious issues around — looking to go against ordinances, and request variances, we need to make sure we reach as many citizens as possible.”

She said it’s commendable that Carroll’s current policy goes above and beyond state land use standards, but that it is important to keep it that way.

“It’s important to post on properties, also important to put it on the government website,” Snyder said. “When you’re talking about how to reach Carroll County citizens about topics that are important to them, I would urge not to roll back the requirement, certainly not eliminate it. … Notice is independent of government, archivable, verifiable and reaches the widest possible audience. The newspaper is your partner.”

Westminster resident Mary Kowalski was the only local citizen to come forward for Thursday’s public hearing.

“We have something as important as appealing zoning decisions, and you want to possibly eliminate putting the notice of that in the newspaper?” she asked. “Shame on you. And also, reducing it down from one notice, or the other option is to reduce from two down to one, again shame.

“If you do that for this, we know what’s coming: Notice of all public hearings are going to come out of the newspaper and just on government websites,” said Kowalski. “And what a coincidence now we have major massive rezoning for our entire county coming up, we have the master plan in the Freedom Area still controversial, still being a challenge, and all the zoning for the entire county — you’re going to eliminate putting it in the newspaper.


“A lot of people still read the Carroll County Times,” she said. “I'm not a fan of the Carroll County Times. I've made it clear. But a lot of people read it for obituaries, classifieds, and notices of public hearings. So I plead with you not to do this, and for all those times when our elected officials decry that people don't get involved, I say this is your chance to show some integrity, to show some consistency.”

On Tuesday, the county’s Planning Commission sent a favorable recommendation to eliminate or decrease the number of newspaper notices, but not without commission members asking questions.

Commission member Alec Yeo expressed his concerns on archiving notices to prove that they were posted on time.

“If you post something, let’s say it happens, the posting gets removed,” Yeo asked Burke at the commission’s Nov. 13 meeting. “Is there some kind of of electronic trail that has the document to prove it’s been posted?

“You can look back in the newspaper forever,” he said. “Is there a historical record that will allow us to prove that date. Do we have proof like we would on the website the way we would with a newspaper? The thing about a newspaper is it does give proof of the time in historical record.”

Burke told him the notices would be on agendas, but that the county would also ensure an archive is created and established.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said at the Planning and Zoning meeting he would support removing the newspaper ad requirement if it weren’t for the residents in his district who aren’t online.

“I have the biggest percentage of folks who have no access to internet in my district,” he said. “In the interest of making sure those folks get it, I'd suggest decreasing it from two to one in he newspaper. But I think the majority of my colleagues suggest we do away with it all together.”

He also advocated for those residents before the recommendation went to a public hearing, at an earlier BOCC meeting.

The record for public comment has been left open for 10 days to receive written comments and the BOCC will decide whether to adopt any of the proposals at their Nov. 27 meeting.


A copy of the two options can be found on the public hearing section of the Carroll County government website.