The public's focus on public business ain't what it should be, or at least what it needs to be in Harford County and many other places.
Every week brings another example, or two, or three locally of the public's business becoming less public. Last week there were three:
• The Harford County Council is poised to end its role in zoning appeals cases, which dates to 1972 and the beginning of local, charter government.
• The Harford County Liquor Control Board granted a one-day liquor license with a private vote via phone calls and email, instead of in a public session.
• A police SWAT Team took over part of an Aberdeen apartment complex as the members, according to the only information police would provide, were trying to execute a warrant.
None of the three incidents by itself appears particularly egregious. Collectively, however, they have a cumulative effect that is very unsettling. The result of these and similar episodes is the dumbing down of the Harford County portion of our American culture.
Before quickly condemning those in government, or in law enforcement, for not keeping public business and/or information public, we're all to blame. Let's not forget the old saying that "people get the government they deserve." Our American culture, including Harford County, is way too dumbed down as it is; how else can the existence of "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo" on TV be explained?
Many Harford County folks are ostensibly interested in the annual county government budget process, particularly how it impacts Harford County Public Schools. And yet, only a tiny handful can find the time to attend a public hearing and express their concerns. That's every year at this time, not just this year.
Apathy is the word that applies to the lack of interest in the important stuff that too many of us have, but it doesn't begin to adequately capture the indifference that permeates our culture.
Be it Beyonce's sister attacking Jay-Z in an elevator or the bigotry of a billionaire owner of an NBA team on the opposite coast or [insert your favorite current pop culture episode here], way too many people know the details of the meaningless and the mindless, but don't have a clue about the important stuff. Like what? How about the Harford County Council, those we elect to represent us, can't absolve themselves fast enough of their role as the Zoning Appeals Board?
If a charter amendment that was introduced last week becomes law, the kind of routine zoning cases that most often impact neighborhoods will be decided by a zoning hearing examiner and then, instead of by the Harford County Council, by a judge, neither of whom ever face the voters. (True, Circuit Court judges have to run for 15-year terms, but that's an eternity compared to the four-year term of a county council member.)
Or, how about the Harford County Liquor Control Board approving a license to dispense alcoholic beverages, if only for a day, without ever seeing the applicant or letting the public know in public session? What if someone underage is served at the event, or if an adult is served too much, or if an attendee is involved a traffic accident afterward? Who should be accountable? Isn't part of the liquor board's job to sanction, oversee and monitor such events for public safety reasons? Maybe not, the way the current board members apparently see it.
Or, how about the police running around, kicking down your neighbor's door, tying up part of an apartment complex for the better part of two hours and then trying to keep it secret? All in the name of what? Public safety?
Those are just the most recent examples. If more of us don't wake up and pay more attention to real world stuff, a lot more people will be complaining about how "the government we serve" wronged us again.