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Death of zoning appeals abdication bill a good thing [Editorial]

It would have been as if the U.S. president had proposed a constitutional amendment giving up the chief executive's authority as commander-in-chief, just so the office holder could complain about the management of the armed forces.

Though the implications are vastly different, the analogy is one that fits.

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What the Harford County Council had sought to do through a charter change would have been to give up authority over sensitive zoning matters to clear the way for elected council members to kvetch about those sensitive zoning matters.

No more hard decisions. No more keeping mum on issues where they might be obliged to act as de facto judges. Council members could have complained loudly that, if they were in charge, things would be different.

The thing is, however, the council is in charge and the bill that would have cleared the way for council members to sound off on high profile land use cases would have allowed them to abdicate being in charge.

It's a sad commentary on the state of public office in Harford County that elected officials would be willing to give up the power to act, presumably in the public interest, in exchange for the political latitude to complain as though they had no sway whatsoever over public policy.

Those who were giving serious consideration to the charter change – one that would have affected not only the current office holders, but also future members of the county council – may not have had the sense to realize the folly of the proposal. Fortunately, however, enough of the general public was focused on the issue that the proposed charter change was allowed to die without anyone voting on it.

Now the Harford County Council, the public body responsible for making zoning laws and drawing zoning maps, will continue to be responsible for ruling on appeals to zoning in particular land use cases. This is for the best. Who better to decide whether a particular land use matter is in keeping with the spirit of the zoning laws and maps than the people who enacted those zoning laws and maps (or at least their successors)?

Two of the major responsibilities assigned to the county council are to act as a check on the county executive's budget and oversight of land use policy. Had the bill been enacted, a key council role would have vanished.

One optimistic conclusion can be drawn: the system works insofar as elected officials can be shamed into doing the right thing, which in this case was allowing the legislation to die.

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