A crime that didn't pay where's local control?


IN A WORLD where we too often think that the bad guys always get away, Richard J. King called last week to relate a story where two would-be thieves got more than they bargained for.

On Presidents Day, Mr. King was home in Linwood with the flu. He had achy joints, congested sinuses and a 102-degree fever.

The virus struck the day before while he was out doing chores. He dropped what he was doing and went into the house without shutting and locking his garage door. Living in a tiny crossroads village out in the country, Mr. King figured he could wait until he recovered enough to go outside and lock the door.

In the middle of the next afternoon, he got up out of his sick bed and happened to look across his yard to his garage.

Mr. King saw two men enter the open door and pop the hood on the engine of his small John Deere tractor. He had a sinking feeling. About two years ago, his expensive telescope was stolen from his porch one evening.

Dizzy with fever, Mr. King tried to dress himself. Just as he was pulling on his trousers, he heard a high-pitched scream.

"It was the same sound that the victim yelled in the movie 'Jaws' just before the shark attacked," Mr. King said.

Unknown to Mr. King, his two German shepherds, who spend their days outside, apparently had heard the noise in the garage and rushed to investigate.

As he shuffled to the window to see what was happening, Mr. King saw two men sprinting from the garage for the open field beyond his house. Their legs and arms were pumping fast as windmills.

"I have never seen men run as fast as these two did," Mr. King said. "Their knees were just about hitting their jaws."

Just as the dogs were gaining on the men and ready to clamp down on their ankles, the canines abruptly stopped.

The dogs had reached the perimeter of Mr. King's "invisible fence." Charges from the dogs electronic collars were intense enough for them to end the chase.

However, the two men had no idea the dogs were contained behind this electronic barrier and continued their --. Mr. King kept his eye on the two scoundrels until they passed out of sight.

"I must admit I almost wished the dogs hadn't stopped," he said. "But I take some joy in knowing these two won't be poking around my property again."

Grassroots, tree roots?

One of the consistent themes of the current political debate is that the smaller units of government are more responsive to the will of the people and more effective in solving problems. In Washington, Congress wants to turn welfare and medical assistance programs to the states. Give them block grants and allow them to fashion solutions that reflect local needs, goes the thinking.

If that is trend, why doesn't that same line of reasoning apply to environmental regulation?

At present, various measures are wending their way through the General Assembly that would prohibit Maryland from enacting environmental regulations that are more restrictive than the federal government's. The measure passed the House of Delegates, 82-53. The Senate will consider a similar legislation this week.

If, indeed, the state governments can more accurately reflect the will of the people, why not allow states to craft protections for their region's environmentally sensitive areas and natural resources?

Obviously, runoff protection is more important in Maryland than in Nevada. Why shouldn't Maryland's regulations reflect the fact that improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay is a major concern?

The same can be said on a local level. Why is it that county officials rant and rave about the inequity of adhering to state mandates, yet when it comes to Carroll's forest conservation law, they reject the notion of self-determination?

Hacking at the forest law

Carroll's forest conservation law, enacted four years ago, was tailored to meet the needs of this county. After months of study and public hearings, a committee drafted the measure that the commissioners ultimately adopted. The forest conservation bill was about as home-grown as it could be. Now the law is deemed to be defective and in need of major revision.

County Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates have convinced Carroll's State House delegation to change the state's forest conservation law to eliminate the declaration of intent requirement as it pertains to Carroll County. To harvest trees, landowners now are required to sign a promise that they won't subdivide their property within seven years after logging the land.

Rather than try to amend the local ordinance in Westminster, where there would be a heated public fight, the opponents are slinking off to the next level of government in Annapolis, where the deed can be done without much publicity. Because the rest of the General Assembly will consider this change to be a minor local matter, it will pass without a hearing and no opposition.

C7 So much for dealing with problems on a local level.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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