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Town to weigh residency for board service Opponents warn against eliminating fit out-of-towners; 'Live with your decisions'; Measure would affect planning, zoning, ethics, appeals panels


For many Hampstead officials, the concept is pretty simple. Those who make the decisions for the town ought to live there. Even in Carroll towns that don't require residency, officials always have preferred having reside community governs itself," said Jack A. Gullo Jr., mayor of New Windsor. "It doesn't sit well with some residents to have people outside of town in control."

Tonight, Hampstead's mayor and council have scheduled a public hearing on three residency ordinances. If passed, any member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Ethics Commission or the Board of Zoning Appeals would be required to live within town limits.

"You should have a vested interest in the town," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin. "You should have to live with your decisions, good or bad."

But residents of towns that don't have residency requirements -- including some in Hampstead -- feel that restricting membership for advisory boards also may eliminate dedicated and qualified volunteers.

"You could be limiting yourself," said Councilwoman Jacqueline Hyatt at a Sept. 19 council meeting. "You still have the leverage to give the final vote on whether to approve someone [to serve]. You may be tying your hands."

In reality, advisory boards with nonresident members are not very common, said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's planning director.

"In my experience, that's kind of unusual," he said, adding that he has served as president of the Maryland Citizen Planners Association.

Maybe so for larger communities, but some Hampstead residents, including Ms. Hyatt, wonder if small towns might have a difficult time finding qualified people.

"The expertise of people outside of town is welcome," said David Warner, town manager in Manchester, which does not have a residency requirement. "Your preference has to be with residents in many of these cases. But diversity doesn't hurt in planning and zoning."

With its 15,000 residents, even Westminster sometimes has to scramble to find volunteers, Mr. Beyard said. "It's never easy to find people with expertise," he said. "It doesn't make a difference if you are a large city or small town. You have got to put up with a lot of uncomfortable stuff. Land use decisions are very touchy in this county."

In New Windsor, Carroll County's smallest town, someone always has been willing to serve, Mr. Gullo said. The town of about 760 has a residency requirement for members of the Board of Zoning Appeals, and the mayor plans new legislation making it a requirement for the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.

"While we don't have people lining up at the door, we don't have a problem filling vacancies," he said. "If you are a member of a town, it is your duty to serve sometimes. The root of small town government is the community governing itself, and you have to accept some of that responsibility."

Caring about the town is more important than having technical knowledge about planning or zoning issues, Mr. Gullo said.

"We are not all experts in municipal government, you hire people to give you that," he said. "But the ultimate decision of what you do with the information you're given is up to the citizens. That's why we want citizens making the ultimate decisions."

Even if a town has residents who have some expertise in planning issues, appointing them to municipal boards may present the potential for conflicts of interest if they have business that requires town approval, Mr. Beyard said.

"What you need on a commission are open-minded people who want to take part in their government, who want to be involved in it," he said. "You need people with good common sense, good judgment and a willingness to volunteer and do what has to be done."

Another argument raised in Hampstead for allowing nonresidents to serve is that land-use decisions can affect those outside of town as much or more as those who live within the municipality.

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