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April 14, 2005

Government's Perpetual Crawl

Alan Imhoff

As an observer and occasional participant in the political scene here in Frederick, I often hear those who promote what seems to be a "great accomplishment." In fact it is often nothing more than the continuum of government.

Case in point. Recently many of the lead articles in the area newspapers and local radio stations focused on the need to get the new Land Management Ordinance for the City of Frederick passed before the Charter mandated exclusion of such activity before and after an election.

There was even a quote to the effect that staff and consultants in getting this thing ready have spent many hours and that is why it needs to be passed now.

Well, for those who may have had some involvement in the process, they are wondering why the rush to judgment? Since when did staff and consultants dictate the timing of when things should be done?

Many of those who participated during an excruciatingly long process have experienced a congenial "thanks for meeting our public input requirement" but in reality the staff and/or consultants have largely ignored many, if not most of that work.

The "public" that did have the most time to help out over this two-year long process were those who represent the businesses most affected by proposed change.

Personally I find the timing to attempt to finalize this process very curious in an election year. I was involved - as a Frederick City Planning Commission member in 1999 - with trying to get staff to begin the process, even to the point of laying out an 18-month timeline to get the Comprehensive Plan underway so it could meet the 2001 state required update.

The commission did recommend a one-year delay until the county had completed its Frederick Region Comprehensive plan. Yet it seems something else was driving the overall timing of things. It took hundreds of thousands of dollars for consultants, and a tremendous amount of staff time, but the Comprehensive Plan finally made it to the approval stage last year, fully three years behind schedule.

Now, in less than a year, a document the forms the basis for almost every decision in planning is being radically changed from what we had been working under and the rush to get it done before the election seemed to be the intent.

But now we have a reprieve to early next year.

Like the "rush" to expand the boundaries of the Frederick Town Historic District, a ground swell of concern and opposition rose up to question the validity of the timing and more importantly, the economic impact the proposed changes might have on property within the city. Luckily, the majority of the decision-makers decided the "rush" was not worth the potential impact, and not just economically.

So, what are we to expect?

As I stated earlier, there is a certain continuum to government, unless there is an overriding mandate from a higher governmental authority to get something done by date certain. Most things in government take forever to accomplish.

Another case in point. It was recently reported that the federal government, in the guise of the National Park Service, has studied the deer population surrounding Camp David for 20 years. It has made its recommendations to reduce its size. According to the article, it may take several years to decide on which option to use to eradicate part of the deer herd. The article also finished with a statement that the solution chosen may take up to 10 years to be effective.

Sometimes makes you wonder. Job security?

So, whether it is deer populations, major highway construction, water supplies or Comprehensive Plan and Land Management Ordinance, the bureaucracy of government just keeps rolling along the continuum of action by indecision and blaming the budget.

Unless, of course, it is an election year and you have to show something to make your bosses look good.

November will see a new administration elected in Frederick City, maybe with some old faces. But, for those that will truly be new decision makers, a tremendous learning curve will need to be navigated to make an informed decision on the Land Management Ordinance. Currently scheduled for February, the new folks will have about three months to make a decision on a document that might last 25 years as the chief planning document.

Sort of makes you shudder a little, doesn't it?

So, what can you do in the meantime? Get out to the workshops. Go to public hearings. Question staff on the implications of the proposed rules. Ask pointed questions on whether or not the proposed changes will be economically beneficial in the long run for the city.

Otherwise, government will continue like a river "and just keep rollin' along".

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