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Carroll County News

Carroll 2030 sparks controversy

Carroll 2030, a work group put together by Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, and its conclusions on how best to prepare the county for success in the coming years have become the subject of controversy.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said though the work may have some value, Carroll 2030 is a redundancy, potentially biased and possibly offensive to some of his constituents; however, members of the work group and fellow commissioners don't quite see it that way.

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The group, which was formed in 2012, has as its stated purpose "to develop a process for and perform a needs assessment to identify long-term county needs."

Lynn Wheeler, co-chairman of the group and director of the Carroll County Public Library, said they evaluated and determined the long-term needs of the county by gathering information from individuals, businesses, public institutions and private organizations.

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Carroll 2030 created nine clusters — each representing a constituency group in the county and made up of members with prior expertise in these areas — and asked them to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) to these focus areas.

After the SWOT analyses from the nine clusters were compiled, Carroll 2030 identified priorities that all the clusters shared and presented these findings to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 11. These included improvements to the infrastructure, education and public safety of the county; and the availability of technology.

The group also asked the commissioners to recognize it as an official county board.

Similarities with planning commission

During the commissioner meeting Dec. 23, Rothschild gave a presentation that identified several perceived similarities between the county's Planning and Zoning Commission, and Carroll 2030.

Many of the key focus points in the Master Plan, which the planning commission is tasked with putting together, are mirrored in the conclusions of the work group, he said, including housing; transportation; agriculture; parks; public facilities and services; the environment; economic development; growth management; and noting past, present and future trends.

If Carroll 2030 is made an official commission, at the very least it impinges on the powers of the planning commission and at the worst it is illegal because it would potentially usurp the power of both the planning commission and the Department of Land Use, Planning and Development, Rothschild said.

"If there are some similar performing functions in both the Planning and Zoning Commission and Carroll 2030, should [the work group] be allowed to plan behind closed doors without us checking the process?" Rothschild asked.

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The county currently has dozens of official boards and commissions that act as representatives of the different constituency groups in the county, he said. Carroll 2030 created its nine clusters to reach out to these same groups, which is another redundancy, Rothschild said. Still, some of the clusters' findings may have relevance, he said.

His solution, he said, would be to have each of the nine clusters individually present their findings to the planning commission to incorporate their ideas into the comprehensive Master Plan.

The purpose statement of Carroll 2030 addresses this point and states: "Carroll 2030 is not a plan or a planning entity and is not charged with or attempting to create a plan. The County's Master Plan relates primarily to land use planning and is restricted by mandates from the State of Maryland."

Wheeler said in keeping with the above statement, the group never dealt with either land-use designations or the zoning process.

"All we did was identify the community's needs and figure out what we need to have in place to be successful," she said.

Howard said to date all the group has done is identify priorities but has never suggested an implementation strategy, which is the responsibility of the planning commission.

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"Carroll 2030 was nothing more than a brainstorming plan, and there has never been a recommendation presented to the board," Howard said. "It would be highly inappropriate to do that, and [the commissioners] would have to review their findings."

Group members have ties to government

Of the 28 members who comprise the Carroll 2030 group, 21 either work for or receive funding from the government, which has created a fundamental government bias, Rothschild said.

It should come as no surprise then, he said, that the group's conclusions would mean a significant increase in government spending — which would ultimately affect the county's taxpayers.

One of the conclusions reached by Carroll 2030 is to "ensure a robust internal transportation system to support employee transportation with transfer points at County perimeter." This, Rothschild said, is contrary to the commissioners' intent to keep public transportation within Carroll County.

The work group estimated it would cost $2 million to set up such a system and $805,000 annually to maintain it.

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Carroll 2030 also concluded that the county's roads, sewer and water infrastructure needed heavy improvements and could cost $5 million a year or more to maintain. They also suggested that the Hampstead sewer system should be expanded, which is estimated to cost $16.5 million, and the Freedom sewer system should be expanded to service the Gaither Manor apartment complex in Sykesville, which could cost as much as $20 million.

Another source of inherent bias is the inclusion of a client of Howard's as a member of the work group, Rothschild said. This, and the inclusion of government employees who shared Howard's viewpoint, led to Carroll 2030 identifying the same priorities — public safety, education and infrastructure — that Howard ran on in his recent campaign to win re-election to the board of commissioners, he said.

Rothschild said these inherent biases, as well as a nonpublic process, played a part in determining which questions were asked as part of Carroll 2030's SWOT analysis, how they were worded and which questions weren't asked.

One question the education cluster asked its participants was whether you would properly fund the public school system, Rothschild said.

"That's like asking, 'Would you properly feed your children?' " he said. "Who's going to say no to that?"

The point, Rothschild said, is that those who design the questions can predetermine the answers and thus the outcome.

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Howard disputes the idea that he hand selected every member and participant in the work group.

"I have no singular vision for 2030," Howard said. "They were trying to get a sense of what all our departments and organizations were thinking and planning, and how they would interact."

Wheeler, of Carroll 2030, said the work group is not now, nor ever was, a political organization. The reason members asked for it to be named an official commission is so they could gain more input from other community groups they were unable to tap.

"There is no other role whatsoever that Carroll 2030 plays other than to gather information from various groups," Wheeler said.

She said she can understand why some of the conclusions were not pleasing to everyone, but that is common when decisions and conclusions have the potential to impact the lives of the public. There is a misunderstanding, however, Wheeler said. Carroll 2030 never once proposed any action or implementation process in regard to their conclusions.

"I'm sorry that some people thought these were actions we were calling for, but that wasn't the process," she said.

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She also said it was not the group's intention to be seen as a private one. Everything Carroll 2030 ever discussed is accessible by visiting its website, Wheeler said.

If the work group is made an official commission, it would then have to abide by all open government law, which includes, among other things, allowing its conclusions to be reviewed by the commissioners and holding their meetings in a public setting.

Ultimately, Howard said, the work group is comprised of citizens of Carroll County who are well respected in the community and have worked incredibly hard during the last two years with the best of intentions.

Wheeler said undoubtedly some — if not all — of their conclusions will have cost associations. That doesn't necessarily mean government spending would increase, she said.

As an analogy, she compared the county to a household. When planning for the future, she said, the parents have to decide how best to spend their income. It could be on a new roof, or sending their children to college, or buying a larger house. This doesn't mean that they will need to increase their income, but it does mean they will have to prioritize their needs.

"To continue the analogy, to have a sound county, we will need to replace the roof, so we better start planning now," Wheeler said.

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Issues with grandfathering conclusions

Rothschild said based on feedback from constituents, he does not believe the group's conclusions represent the vision of a large percentage of Carroll Countians.

"Some of these ideas are pretty from afar and far from pretty," he said.

If Carroll 2030 is made an official commission, Rothschild said he would have a problem with grandfathering in its conclusions.

"There is no process to refine or verify whether these visions are actually carried by the majority of our constituents," he said.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, who prior to his decision to run for election was a member of the work group, doesn't think that's true.

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Carroll 2030 members did everything they could to ensure that all constituency groups were part of their process, he said.

Wantz said he personally met with 14 volunteer fire companies, and the group spoke with 6,000 to 7,000 residents and all eight municipalities to ensure their conclusions were as uncontroversial as possible.

"I had the opportunity to reach out to every part of Carroll County, and to say there wasn't input from certain factions is just wrong," he said.

If the commissioners vote to grant the group's request to become an official commission, the conclusions should be open to public comment, Rothschild said.

However, he said he is also concerned with the potential for public hearings to become an undue burden on the public. When the 58th Carroll County Board of Commissioners held public hearings to get feedback from the public prior to 2010 on the Pathways Plan, thousands came out in opposition to the plan, he said.

"Some of the conclusions reached by [Carroll 2030] are similar to those in the Pathways Plan and to fully vet these conclusions would mean redoing the same process," Rothschild said. "This would wear down the public."

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He reiterated that if any of the clusters wished to have their conclusions be a part of the future of Carroll County, they should request a meeting with the planning commission.

Howard said if there are members of the public who think the ideas or thoughts of these people — who are highly regarded in the community — are irrelevant or offensive, they are entitled to that.

"[The commissioners] are trying to understand the implications of our decisions going forward and that's what Carroll 2030 is trying to do," Howard said.

Commissioners sound off on Carroll 2030

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, who also coaches wrestling at Century High School, said he tells his athletes everything you do makes you better or worse and this motto applies to the commissioners as well.

"If the board of commissioners wants to make a commission to look at the future impact of our decisions, it's within our purview," Frazier said. "As a commissioner, I don't think I'd have a problem with that even though some [conclusions] I don't agree with, but it's important to have this mechanism."

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If the commissioners decide to move forward on naming Carroll 2030 an official commission, they should allow for more people to join the work group to provide a wider variety of opinions, Frazier said.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said Carroll 2030 is not a planning group, it is a long-range issues group that identifies priorities before they become problems.

He said the work group should be formalized and additional members should be considered based on merit, not position in the community.

"We have to look at what will be happening and we can't ignore [these conclusions]," Weaver said. "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

Wantz has denied allegations that Howard played a significant part in the group's prioritization process and added the conclusions reached by the group are neither in opposition to what the public wants nor do they clash with the fabric of Carroll County.

Rothschild said the intentions of Carroll 2030 were good, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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"The proper functionings of government must be religiously guarded by those in power," Rothschild said.

Howard said he doesn't understand the fearmongering and attacks against Carroll 2030. On two separate occasions, he presented his plan to the prior board of commissioners, which included Rothschild, to form the work group and never a heard a word of opposition to the idea.

The purpose of making Carroll 2030 an official board, he said, is because the commissioners want and need the public's involvement.

"As a board, we want a group to represent a wide group of people that is citizen driven so that when we make a decision it has a long-term context," Howard said. "What do we want to do and where do we want to go?"

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

More information

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To learn more about Carroll 2030 and its process, visit the work group's website at http://www.vision.carr.org.


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