THE ISSUE: -- Last week, the referendum issue on the "Comp Lite" omnibus zoning bill was likely knocked off November's election ballot by a court decision that members of the county Board of Elections declined to challenge. The state's second-highest court found that petitions signed by more than 7,000 people provided too little information about the zoning bill for people to be fully informed about what they were signing. What do you think about this ruling, the board's decision not to challenge it, and what voters should do now?
An embarrassment to the county
It is obvious to most citizens of Howard County that the developers run this county. The decision by the Board of Elections not to support its own ruling is an embarrassment to this county.
As a working mother who spent nights and weekends collecting signatures on the "approved" referendum to put Comp Lite on the ballot, I was disgusted by the lack of ethics and honesty on the part of our elections board.
After reading the Sun article about fights, lawsuits and restraining orders going on in that body it is no wonder this group can't settle down to do the people's work. To add insult to injury, the fact that they hired an attorney from one of the biggest developer advocates in the county without following proper procedures shows how this body, along with our Planning Board and county elected officials, defer to developers at every stage.
It is my hope that come election time the people will hold these elected officials accountable for all the backroom deals that have taken place over the years.
Patricia Casal Ellicott City
The decision was appalling
The Board of Elections decision was appalling. It sends a message that voters can never meet the standards required to bring a bad law to referendum, especially large, complex bills such as Comprehensive Zoning. The only previous Howard County referendum (the 30 percent tax increase) was also rejected on a technicality. Without an effective referendum option, small groups of residents must file legal suits at their own expense versus the county's virtually unlimited resources.
The court decided the County Council's own bill summary, as printed on the petition signature pages, did not have sufficient detail to allow petition signers to make an informed decision, even though that met the county referendum requirements. The court should have applied realistic standards.
The Howard County Board of Elections Chairman, Guy Harriman, was quoted as saying his board decided not to ask the Court of Appeals for a ruling because "this is really a matter for the legislature. Should zoning issues be subject to a referendum?" His personal opinion on appropriateness of bringing Comp Lite to referendum and the resulting board decision arbitrarily took the power away from the voters.
Wes Allen Ellicott City
A travesty and an insult
The courts striking down the Comp Lite referendum and the Howard County Board of Elections refusing to appeal the decision is a travesty. Thousands of registered voters signed the Comp Lite petition, and the court struck down the petition, claiming it was too confusing. The court was concerned that the people who signed the petition didn't really know what they were signing. I, for one, am insulted by this paternalistic opinion of all citizens of Howard County. Even more insulting is the fact that the Board of Elections is the only entity authorized to appeal this ruling. The thousands of registered voters in Howard County who signed this petition are powerless to do anything. Despite this travesty, it is my hope that the citizens of Howard County will have a voice in November when they boot out of office all parties involved in this scandalous affair.
Jill Jacobsen Ashman Ellicott City
Elections board should appeal
We feel that the Howard County Board of Elections should appeal the court ruling which negated the petition to add the "Comp Lite" zoning bill to the ballot as a referendum. It is imperative that our county government has a means of checks and balances in order to curb the powers of the Zoning Board/County Council when they are not representing our best interests with their zoning decisions. Approximately 50 acres of land at the corner of Route 103 and Route 100 was changed from residential to commercial zoning, even though this parcel of land should clearly remain residential. This land is directly behind our townhome in the Woodland Village Development. With the "Comp Lite" zoning change, our best interests were not represented; this commercial zoning will directly negatively impact our quality of life as well as the property value of our home.
Sara and Derek Hammer Ellicott City
Use our ballots to clean house
The court's implication that the petition signers could not know what they were signing without the "proper" overview of the bill is ludicrous considering all of the press coverage being given to the bill in local publications as well as The Sun. And it totally ignores any sort of verbal summary that was given to the signers who had not read any of the articles. Beyond that, each petition gatherer had a full copy of the bill available for a signer's review, not just a summary.
Passively allowing bills to avoid referendum, due to questionable technicalities on an appeal, reflects poorly on the Board of Elections. The message it sends to Howard County residents is that they have no say on laws passed by legislators supposedly elected to represent the people. For the more cynical among us, it would further perpetuate the impression that developers have the money and political influence to get their own way no matter what the overwhelming majority of us want. At best, this is disillusioning to the Howard County voters. At worst, the stench of perceived corruption engulfs all facets of our local government. The only means the voters have to rectify this perception, right or wrong, is to use our ballots to clean house. Again.
Kevin S. Campbell Ellicott City