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February 9, 2007

Government by Revision

Roy Meachum

At both county and Frederick City levels, the public sits by, helpless, while elected officials govern by revision. Not liking measures adopted by their predecessors, they are mandating change, although most of their faces have been around for years.

Not having a reliable crystal ball, I cannot foresee where all these frantic exercises lead. It is reliable to predict, however, that the real winners will be lawyers; they are generally the beneficiaries in intra-governmental fusses.

The logic of the city's ethics panel continues to make me scratch my bald head. The honorable members opined that it was perfectly all right for Alderman Donna Kuzemchak-Ramsburg, acting as a private individual, to attack the plan that the Odd Fellows property, up North Market, be developed with more than 500 residences. She now wants to cut that number down considerably.

Her motives are not hard to figure out; some of my neighbors on this end of town are less than enchanted with the prospect of having a substantial flock of new families move in. They envision endless traffic jams and the clutter spread around by people. I understand.

Living on North Market, I carefully try to avoid trips after three o'clock in the afternoon, getting on South Market past Mt. Olivet Cemetery can be hazardous to your car's health. Coming back the other way is even more chancy.

But that situation existed long before the planning commission decided the new development was okay. The time for public and political pressure was before the ruling, after the hearings held on the issue. Once the stamp of approval had been affixed the only true recourse should have been the courts of law.

That's not how Mrs. Kuzemchak-Remsberg saw it. Hiring a lawyer would not serve her political ambitions. She yearned to be cheered by the citizenry. She wanted their votes. Her past open yearning for the mayor's chair came into play. I understand her view.

But I can never understand why the Ethics Commission decided it was okay to wear different costumes. Is she a member of the board that writes and approves legislation for the city? If so, then how could she perform as a dissident, challenging the rules approved by the board? It makes no sense.

On the other hand the local moral standards have never been clear, especially at the county level. Lauded, in the Frederick News-Post, as "straight forward and outspoken," the qualities that every politician wants to project, Commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson continues to act as a one-man wrecking crew.

Although the man himself slumped to the bottom of the popularity list, the last election delivered board numbers on his side. He and his fellow no-growth proponents are now free to lobby against the New Market Regional Plan, adopted just last year. The dispute over that region's development involves some 14,000 homes, already dwindled down. The final number will be proposed at a down-the-road meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, possibly in October.

Looming sooner, April 24, is a referendum on the New Market town fathers' unanimous approval of annexing the directly adjoining Smith-Cline property whose 262 acres follow Boyer's Mill Road. The Gazette reported a petition for referendum was signed in January by 176 voters; that's out of 320 registered on town rolls. Since only 20 percent is required, the referendum seems certain. But the outcome is by no means a done deal.

Down but not out was New Market's attempt to add Adventure USA, a 24-acre amusement park south of the town. Circuit Court Judge John Tisdale said existing covenants ruled out the annexation. Since heavy-hitting law firms line up on both sides, an appeal appears certain.

Of immediate concern to this column is the legal steps taken by the county commissioners to revise and reinvent the New Market Region Plan which dates back to the 1980s. As an example, I am told they will suggest property ruled "agricultural" since planning started nearly 50 years ago receives down grading to "conservation."

The new designation would do more than prevent development; it also means what has been a farm for generations could not be sold to anyone who wants to work the land. That lowers a family's legacy to virtually zilch; it would be worth absolutely nothing if the state and county don't buy the property. In the event, a government buy-out would come at a far lower price than developers. That should trigger a few law suits, of course.

Every time I drive around the county I am taken by the explosive growth; I bought my first Frederick home in 1983, which was the beginning of the latest transmigration from big cities. The current growth probably exceeds the swarms that poured in after the Civil War; it does certainly by head count but may be less when the migration is figured by percentages. I don't know.

In an earlier column, I narrated how the current county board, so resolutely anti-growth, has benefited from the development most members oppose. The exception is Mr. Thompson, who continues to occupy an older home in Walkersville. He is the most vociferous on the question of growth. In his white suit, the commissioner has become a virtual parody of himself and other politicians who strive to prove their "cleanliness."

Where all this ends, I have no clue. But here's another situation that can end in only high drama. Or low politics. We'll see.

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