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Community Voices (Howard): Strong leadership will get businesses reopened

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is dealing with major issues riddled with uncertainty. COVID-19 has certainly proven to be a clear circumstance of leading through uncertainty.

And yet, it is time to reopen business. It is time to take all that we knew and all that has been learned to make things as safe as possible, but also to recognize that every business is “essential” to the business owner, the people they serve and the people they employ.

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I commend the Board of Commissioners, starting with Commissioner Rothstein, for leading the discussion about getting local businesses reopened. I wholeheartedly agree government should not “pick winners and losers.” So, we need to move beyond approved lists of business categories and set as the objective, to get all businesses opened if they can meet safety criteria.

Commissioner Weaver was right when he suggested it should be about having a set of standards as the criteria for reopening. For years, business owners have been subjected to zoning, health department, workplace safety and industry specific regulations. Though the coronavirus threat was unprecedented, businesses (especially small businesses) have long demonstrated the ability to take regulations created for public safety and establish practices, procedures, training and compliance standards to meet them.

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The conflict between free enterprise and public safety is well woven into the fabric of America. And, our nation does not embrace a zero tolerance for risk at the expense of free enterprise and progress.

In the 1800s trains were very dangerous until the advent of modern braking systems, yet trains ran. Meat was a dangerous purchase early in the last century until food safety and package labeling standards were established, but people still ate meat. The car was on the road well before seatbelts were required or airbags were created. Yet, despite very high traffic fatalities, the use of cars was not halted. And healthcare itself was a very risky proposition with tremendous numbers of deaths by infection prior to standards for sterile instruments, testing blood supply and other standard safety practices.

Health and safety improvements have always been an evolution, and the world did not stop while they evolved. We need to embrace that philosophy in getting businesses open as soon as possible

Commissioner Bouchat suggested the inclusion of the county health officer and Chamber of Commerce in the process. Great idea! But that process needs to be immediate, structured, even more inclusive and focused on creating clear standards.

During my tenure in office, we frequently created task forces of government staff, industry experts, business owners and citizens to address issues from solid waste to school funding. I was never disappointed in the quality of their work, the creativity of their ideas and the benefits of their effort.

Commissioners could immediately create a task force, starting with Commissioner Bouchat’s idea, but with broader participation, including business owners. It could be formed in a matter of days. It could be tasked to create recommendations for reopening standards for the Commissioners to review by late June.

Commissioner Frazier was right that businesses need to be heard. With a clear set of standards in a matter of weeks, business owners could document how they will comply with each standard and how they will demonstrate their compliance to the government and the public. With a structured process for getting these plans quickly approved, very talented county staff should be able to use the approved standards, review plans and authorize business openings.

Finally, Commissioner Wantz expressed the benefits of coordinating with the governor’s office. The governor has clearly taken steps to pass more authority on this situation to local jurisdictions. A good working relationship with the governor’s office on this will allow our county leaders to do what is best for Carroll County, quickly and effectively, recognizing that government closest to the people is where the best decisions are made.

To some, it may seem that the long passage of time will allow businesses to open without any health risk. I would suggest to those who hold that opinion, that the passage of time for a business owner who has made an investment, put assets at risk, committed a lifetime and employed our friends and neighbors, is a luxury they simply may not have.

Clearly, public safety cannot just be disregarded. Freedom without any regard for safety is irresponsible. And yet, safety at the expense of freedom is simply unacceptable. The time has come for our leaders to strike the right balance and create the opportunity for all businesses, if they can do so in accordance with reasonable standards, to reopen in Carroll County. I have every confidence that this can be accomplished and stand ready to offer help if I can be of any assistance.

Doug Howard, a local business owner and former county commissioner, writes from Eldersburg.

For any member of the community who would like to submit a guest community voices column for publication consideration, it should be approximately 700 words and sent to bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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