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Only town residents need apply Non-resident policy makers erode confidence in town governments


An editorial in The Sun for Carroll yesterday incorrectly reported the population of Hampstead. The population is about 3,800.

The Sun regrets the errors.

THERE WAS a time when Hampstead had difficulty finding town residents to serve on its various boards and commissions. As a result, people who lived outside the town often occupied seats on important policy panels such as the planning commission, the ethics board and the board of zoning appeals. Things have changed, and the town council soon will be considering an ordinance requiring any member of a board or commission to be a town resident.

Town residency is a sensible requirement. People who make policy or give advice to the council and mayor should have to live with the consequences of their actions or recommendations. Since non-resident commission members don't live in town, they also escape the burden of paying for decisions they make.

With more than 13,000 residents, Hampstead ought to have an ample pool of interested and able candidates for its decision-making bodies. If current members move out of town before their terms are up, the new ordinance should require them to resign within a month.

A process that allows non-residents to set rules for residents ultimately erodes confidence in government and generates cynicism. It's always easy to tell others what to do. But when people have a stake in tough and controversial decisions they make, their authority seems more legitimate and their judgments become more responsible. Considering the many difficult issues they face, municipal governments need all the citizen support they can get.

Hampstead's town council favors the ordinance. The political friction involves handling the non-residents currently serving on boards and commissions. Of the three panels -- planning, board of zoning appeals and ethics -- mentioned in the ordinance, only one current member would be affected. He is James Rock, a member of the planning commission.

Rather than requiring Mr. Rock to resign once the ordinance is enacted, the council could take the political high road and "grandfather" him, allowing him to serve out his term. It would be the smart thing to do. Rather than appearing to be conducting a personal vendetta, the council could rightly claim that it is promoting good public policy through this change.

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