Vol. 8, No. 41
Oct. 12-18, 2000
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Why Leaders Must Listen

This is the season when our leaders should be listening to people. If they aren't - or we think they aren't - we have the opportunity to cast some of them out like faded, threadbare sweaters.

There was no better example in the world than what we saw in Yugoslavia last week. Hundreds of thousands of people in the flush of democracy took to the streets to run Slobodan Milosevic out of power.

In Boston, we saw liberal and conservatives joined in the streets last week to protest the exclusion of their candidates - the Green Party's Ralph Nader and the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan - from the first presidential debate.

Closer to home in Anne Arundel County, we watched a mini-revolt last week when opponents of a Safeway supermarket and shopping complex in the rural reaches of the county paraded a 12-foot-high effigy of County Executive Janet Owens, whom they crowned the "Queen of Sprawl" for her handling of the matter.

We hope our own elected officials in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties - and the hired hands who carry the laws they make into our everyday lives - are learning the lessons people around the world have been teaching. Dictatorships don't ask people's opinions; Democracies are supposed to. When they don't ask, they're in trouble. When they ask and don't listen, they're in big trouble.

For nearly three years, Anne Arundelians have been urged to speak up. We've got to praise Anne Arundel County for that: Small Area Planning Committees are a nifty idea. In a very big county where governance comes from the top down, they're creating over a dozen little forums where citizens can work together to shape the futures of their own communities. Two rounds are nearly finished, and the third and last, largely to work in North County, about to begin.

Citizens have devoted thousands of hours away from their families in meetings that droned late into the night crafting blueprints for shaping our communities. It's been a collaborative process in which people shared their visions and then made compromises, many of which were painful.

At the heart of this exercise is the commitment by participants to protect the quality of life in our county and to avoid more congestion, more unwise development and more damage to the Chesapeake Bay and our natural surroundings.

So what's happened to their plans? How is their work being implemented on the Annapolis and Broadneck peninsulas? In Edgewater and Mayo? In Crofton, Crownsville and Severna Park?

You haven't heard? Neither have we. In the beginning, we were deluged with press releases. Now, when we should be talking real world work, we're on our own.

Of the most recent group, South County seems to be sailing along. The citizen consensus that Anne Arundel County should remain rural from Davidsonville to Rose Haven was accepted by both the county's professional planners and by the county-wide citizen Planning Advisory Board.

Deale-Shady Side, on the other hand, is continuing to travel a bumpy road. At its first review, the county's professional planners have been busy "correcting" what its citizen planners had to say.

As county officials receive recommendations from local planning committees, they need to remember that we're all still listening in this fall house-cleaning season.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly