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Letter: Public meeting on use of old Howard courthouse appeared just for show | READER COMMENTARY

Nonpublic meeting on historic courthouse property

I was extremely disappointed in the Howard County Department of Public Works’ public meeting July 20 on the reuse of the historic courthouse property because it wasn’t a discussion or a public meeting. It was a well-controlled DPW presentation.

Current health rules would have allowed for in-person participation, which would have permitted active participant interaction and discussion, including follow-up questions. But this meeting was held online only. There was no opportunity for discussion and only limited opportunity for questions.

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The hosts were the only ones to see the questions submitted electronically during the presentation. The hosts had sole control as to which questions would be asked publicly and could edit the questions before reciting them publicly. My questions about taxpayer expenditures on the project were ignored.

More importantly, the hosts ignored questions that I asked repeatedly about whether or not residential development could be part of the reuse plan. After two deadly floods in the past five years, development in and above Old Ellicott City is of critical importance to people in the town. It was clear to me that the hosts were avoiding these questions because they were asked repeatedly when there was a lull in questions from other participants and when the hosts were vigorously seeking questions to fill the silence.

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I can only assume that DPW did not want to answer questions about potential development. All of this makes me wonder what DPW is hiding and who is actually calling the shots here?

It seems that the purpose of this meeting was to permit DPW to check off the “public participation” box without seeking real public participation. An electronic poll held during the meeting also entitled DPW to say it obtained input from the public, but respondents could only select DPW-specified answers to DPW-specified questions. An online post-meeting survey provides a little more flexibility but still no discussion.

I encourage Howard County government and DPW to provide a forum for genuine public participation, in which participants can interact with each other as well as with panelists. It should be a forum that allows for open discussion, honest expression of different perspectives and the free exchange of ideas, rather than just a well-controlled presentation.

Julian A. Levy Jr.

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Columbia

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