In a healthy democracy, citizen participation is an essential component of the drafting of legislation. But by allowing a special committee of the Carroll County Bar Association to review amendments to the county's forest conservation and stream protection ordinances, the county commissioners have handed the advocates of Carroll's development interests an opportunity to have a disproportionate say in the revision of these important environmental laws.
If the commissioners follow the recommendations of this committee, they are clearly signaling that the welfare of the special interests outweighs that of the county's citizens.
The problem began when Commissioner Donald I. Dell asked his personal attorney, Charles D. Hollman, to review the amendments. Not only does Mr. Hollman represent Mr. Dell, but much of his practice is devoted to zoning matters and he appears regularly before the county representing homebuilders and landowners. Given the nature of his practice, Mr. Hollman's comments on this legislation are suspect.
Sensing his predicament, Mr. Hollman, who also happens to be president of the Carroll County Bar Association, formed a special bar committee to review the proposed changes. But this is no impartial committee. Three out of the five members are advocates for developers, homebuilders and large landowners. From all appearances, this panel can be expected to use this forum to advance the interests of their clients -- which are not necessarily the interests of the general public.
If the local Carroll County bar association really wants to provide an impartial panel to evaluate these amendments, why not appoint a committee whose members don't have such flagrant conflicts of interest? Why is there no representation from the county attorney's office? Why is there no representative of the environmental bar?
If the commissioners' goal is to receive an unbiased legal critique of these amendments, this committee -- on appearances alone -- is doomed to fail. The citizens of this county and the members of the local bar would be better served if this committee were disbanded.
But if the Carroll County bar association's input is needed, an impartial committee should be formed. If that's not done, the rest of the county's citizens have every right to be highly skeptical of any recommendations coming from the current committee of special-interest lawyers.