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February 22, 2006

Annex This

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Once again the Maryland General Assembly is being asked to step between municipalities and county governments over an issue that threatens the peace and tranquility that should exist between them. This time another crisis is building over growth and development.

Recently a bill was dropped in the hopper in Annapolis regarding annexation, the latest of many conflicts that have arisen in recent years between these two governments, who just happen to represent the same people in numerous instances across the Free State.

Unfortunately, this issue has also developed into one of the more interesting sideshows of this year’s General Assembly session. The relationship between the Maryland Municipal League (MML) and the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) has always been somewhat conflict oriented. However, in the current session, it has deconstructed even further.

At a time when, at least in Maryland, the conflict between the judiciary and the legislature has not resurfaced in the press, the counties and municipalities are really raising such a distracting ruckus off to one side that it is starting to divert the audience from the main stage.

For many years, it was the position of the MML to go out of its way to work with their local government colleagues at MACo. Working together and presenting a unified front in Annapolis has often best served their respective constituencies.

For the MML it was always best to observe one of the basic tenets of political conflict: bring a big weapon and a friend (MACo) with a big weapon to the table.

Memo to the MML and MACo: In political and theatrical opera, none of the actors should actually perish, the blood should not be real and at the end of the production (session), everyone lines up and takes a bow for a job well done.

Perhaps an outbreak of reasonableness needs to happen and, well – MACo ought to seek professional help on this particular issue. The legislation, titled the “Annexation Planning and Procedures Act of 2006.” is totally unnecessary. It synthetically creates too much yardage (big government) between the goalposts.

Tom Dennison, writing in The Gazette on February 8, presented an excellent synopsis of the bill: “It wants to set a growth boundary around the municipality to limit how much land could be developed. Another provision would allow the county government to delay for 10 years — instead of the five years under current law — an annexation outside the designated growth area of a municipality.”

Good grief, can’t we all just get along?

Is this really the best way to address the issue?

Local squabbles over growth and development need to be solved at the local level, where the best government is local government. One size does not fit all, and these issues need solutions constructed at the local level. Moreover, you can’t legislate consensus or good manners.

To be sure, there are situations here and there throughout the state, where municipal government and county government aren’t playing together nicely in the sandbox.

In some situations, it is because there are some municipalities in the state that think they are really little republics and which chaff at the very idea of working together with their county government. Then there are some mega-maniacal county elected officials who can’t stand the idea that they don’t rule over everything within sight – and then some.

Examples abound. Most are petty and regrettable, but isn’t this a matter for local voters to decide – at the polls?

For whatever reason, the General Assembly has historically been an unfriendly arena for municipalities. There are as many explanations as there are legislative districts in the state.

Land use, annexation; zoning, growth and development are the ever-flowing fountain of contention. Indeed, they are the number one local issue across the nation; and it sells newspapers.

Next time you travel pick up local newspapers and you are likely to read about conflicts over growth and development, inadequate schools and roads, the level of services provided – or not provided by government – availability of water and local employment opportunities.

Most any article will include the word “outrage.” Perhaps there ought to be a seven-day waiting period before anyone can use that word in newspaper articles. Meanwhile, instead of grandstanding in the paper, perhaps, folks might consider picking up the phone and trying some interpersonal skills in order to solve a problem.

Actually, one of the main reasons MACo has been aggressively advocating legislation to give county governments a greater voice in municipal annexation is a series of disputes on the Eastern Shore and in Anne Arundel County.

Let the folks on the Eastern Shore and Anne Arundel County work it out. Leave the rest of us alone.

Justin Palk writes in The Carroll County Times on February 13: “‘It's a necessary step to curb unchecked growth,’ said Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R., Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne's counties. ‘The bill creates incentives for counties and municipalities to work together on planning, and gives more people a voice in the annexation process,’ he said.”

Frederick News-Post reporter Clifford Cumber calls to our attention another quote repeated often – this one by one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D., Baltimore Co.): "Right now annexations can be all about profit and tax base without any long-term planning or vision."

Senator Hollinger chairs the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, where there will be a hearing on March 1, a week from today.

What the hell does Senator Hollinger know about municipal government? There is not one single municipality in all of Baltimore County.

Tom Dennison, writing in The Gazette, reported: “There is talk around the State House that the bill is a so-called hammer, meaning that it is not likely to pass with all its restrictions. Rather, the bill is intended to make a statement — in this case, bring collaboration between municipalities and counties on land-use decisions.”

This legislation isn’t a hammer – it should be called “The Dresden Sanction” as the municipalities are being firebombed for problems they didn’t create.

The MML says that by the year 2030, the population of Maryland is going to be 11 million. That, dear reader, is the problem and everyone needs to concentrate on working together for the solution as to where all these folks are going to live, so everyone can take a bow at the end of the performance.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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