Bill Kennedy's Sept. 28 opinion column on the master plan process (as well as similar themes in recent Times articles) seem to be on the mark.

Following the state-mandated changes in 2008, it was clear that master plans must have close agreement between the two main bodies (planning commission and legislative elected officials) before they could be accepted by the state Department of Planning.

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As a professional engineer and three-time member of the Mount Airy Planning Commission as council liaison, I scratched my head when I realized this a few years back. I coaxed our mayor to write a letter to the Attorney General's office asking who had the final say — the planning commission or the elected body. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been answered by the Attorney General and has been bucked back to the Department of Planning.

The county's efforts, based on articles and what I have read, seem to be a bit heavy handed. However, I've seen similar heavy handedness in the past month or so in our Mount Airy master plan process, perhaps on a smaller scale.

In theory, one is supposed to file a complaint with the local ethics panel. In our case the Ethics Commission is having a dispute with the council regarding whether to enact a state-mandated ethics disclosure ordinance (or one consistent with the state model). I wonder how effective the local ethics commission could be on ruling on ethical disclosure regarding elected officials who they're trying to persuade the proper ethics ordinance.

In hindsight, I don't think anything unusual or different is happening this time around. I was the council liaison in 2003 when we did our current plan. After 24 years of serving as an elected official, I'm keenly aware deals are often struck and probably get important things done.

But we could certainly do better. I believe it was Bismark who was quoted as saying two things the public should never see being done are sausage-making and legislation.

For the record, two of the more controversial rezoning cases are very close to where I live, one just across the street from me. I attended a Sept. 29 workshop where the planning commission and council discussed their differences, and I thought the meeting was well run. That was one of the high points. But there was a heated exchange about whether emotion was part of the process.

In the end, it all seems to come down to integrity and trust. I don't know the formula or the process to certify trust. Many folks told me I had this for a long time, but I admit that I am somewhat emotional about one particular case. And, quite honestly, it's a heavy burden to bear.

Trust apparently can't be fast-tracked, but must be built up over a long time. I think the current county commissioners are all new, and two were not re-elected (assuming the primary results bear out). Trust of public officials, once established, can be lost quickly, too.

Although painful and hard on the planning staff, and probably affected property owners, I think it would be a wise move to let the new county commissioners weigh in and, although it might take some time, it could restore the public trust, which I think is a little shaky right now.

I don't think the county plan is that bad, and except for an area around Taneytown and a few others, isn't all that controversial any more. But I don't think that is the main point.

Dave Pyatt writes from Mount Airy.

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