Principals are dismayed by colleagues' principles


PEOPLE NEVER seem to be satisfied with the personal chemistry of government.

If the pols all agree on policy and issues, there's grumbling that they are in cahoots with each other, that there's no diversity of opinion, that they're cutting secret deals.

If they disagree openly and loudly and persistently, the discord and strife is said to harm the public interest, preventing the conduct of government.

We deplore the personal attacks of elected officials on their colleagues (even as we secretly relish them in the political campaign), but we are likewise uncomfortable with their cloying platitudes of mutual praise.

In Carroll County government today, there is at least no mistaking where the Three Wise Men stand with each other. The public may or may not be pleased with the divisions, but there's no political papering over of the cracks.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell made his position clear last week. "I am really disappointed in Commissioner [Richard T.] Yates; I thought he had higher principles. Commissioner [W. Benjamin] Brown never surprises me."

Mr. Brown then clarified his position. "I smile when I hear the development interests cry that Dick Yates and I are stacking the Planning Commission -- as if it weren't previously stacked in their favor by Donald Dell."

It should be noted that Mr. Brown and Mr. Dell voted in tandem this spring in favor of a whopping 16 percent increase in county property taxes. Mr. Yates stood four-square against any tax increase as irresponsible.

But the divisions between Mr. Dell and Mr. Brown run deeper and more personal. Town and country, spend and save, growth and no-growth are the fundamental divisions between these two commissioners.

There's also the apparent resentment of Mr. Dell (in his second term) of the absolute power held by the first-termers, especially the mayoral bearing of Mr. Brown. On the previous county Board of Commissioners, Mr. Dell swung a lot more weight through his shifting coalitions with Elmer C. Lippy and Julia W. Gouge.

As Mr. Brown pointed out last week, it was the Dell personal majority on the county Planning and Zoning Commission that prompted the Yates-Brown coalition to stack that growth-management body with its followers.

The five members of the planning commission in 1994 included Mr. Dell, his former lawyer Robert Lennon and his former campaign treasurer Robin Frazier. So the two newly elected commissioners expanded the body to seven members, replaced Dell with Mr. Yates, and soon had their own slow-growth majority.

There's no pretense on the part of the two newcomers about balance on the planning board. This is their mandate from the voters. Mr. Brown bluntly stated in a letter last week to The Sun that he and Mr. Yates stacked the planning commission to reflect their views of slow growth in Carroll.

They found another way to tweak Mr. Dell's nose, in filling the two vacancies this month.

Responding to his repeated complaint that no farmer sat on the body, they named a farmer who has already sold the development rights to his land. Since many agricultural landowners are trying to develop parts of their farms, that was not a good sign.

But as Ben Brown boasted, his slow-growth forces already had a majority on the planning commission last year, after Dennis Bowman's term expired.

"We had no need to remove Mr. Lennon" from the commission, he wrote. "His 'all growth is good growth' views are already decidedly in the minority." The two slow-growth commissioners ousted Mr. Lennon in July for ethics code violations, but a Circuit Court judge ordered him reinstated a week ago pending a full judicial hearing.

There's no doubt that Mr. Lennon's pro-growth views and developer law practice bluntly clash with the views of the majority commissioners.

But there was certainly no need for the commissioners to make him a martyr to the property rights, bulldozer-development crowd, to rush through the impeachment without due process, and sustain a costly rebuke from the courts.

Letting Lennon twist

Especially if we are to believe Mr. Brown. Why not let Mr. Lennon HTC twist and fume in frustration, his apparent conflicts of interest excluding him from decisions?

The planning commission has not halted its approvals of new subdivisions: Hundreds of building lots have been approved since Messrs. Brown and Yates presumably had their majority in place, and since their Interim Development Control Ordinance was implemented this spring.

Local laws aren't turned on their head with each election. But the orientation of county government is, as it should be to reflect the views of the electorate.

Fortunately, Carroll's system does not create independent fiefdoms of departments for individual commissioners to rule. It relies on collective decision-making, which means a dynamic process that tests the persuasive and political skills of the

officeholders. Conflict and compromise: they are both part of the political process.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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