Don't Just Stop at the Liquor Board HOWARD COUNTY


The five members of the Howard County Council don't want to serve as the local Liquor Board anymore. Just as the council gave up its duties eight years ago to concurrently serve as the county Health Board, the current members want to place the liquor panel into the hands of citizens whom the council would appoint to five-year terms.

This is hardly a huge sacrifice on the council's part. Its members hate bothering with the ho-hum details of liquor board dealings. Why else would the Democratic-controlled council let a Republican chair the board?

Small potatoes though it is, this bill should be looked on favorably by Howard County legislators (though the county executive, not the council, should make the board appointments.) The council members do wear too many hats. It's bad enough they all serve on these sundry boards; some members also have related responsibilities that consume their hours and energy, such as working as liaisons to the Maryland Association of Counties and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

But why stop at removing the Liquor Board hat? More significant -- and more fraught with potential conflicts of interest -- is the council's role as the county's Zoning Board.

Now here's a job the members relish. They love the power it entails. They love the way developers and others seeking favorable decisions pay homage to the council in its Zoning Board guise. The members would sooner take a sharp stick in the eye than take off their zoning hats.

All the more reason for them to do just that. They have no business tackling zoning questions. A zoning board that is answerable to voters will likely be tempted at times to cave in to overheated public opinion. Worse, council members accept campaign contributions from developers, so voters can't be blamed for wondering if their elected representatives might be in the pockets of local builders.

By seeking to drop their Liquor Board duties, the council members have taken a good step -- but not far enough. They should also move to relinquish their control of zoning matters to an independent body that would be less vulnerable to pressure from voters, developers and other interest groups. The council's proper focus should be legislative concerns. No more, no less.

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