Leopold Shows His Spots
Casting a vote is a gamble. It’s a choice made out of a welter of emotion, affiliation, disdain and hope with no more foreknowledge than a toss of the dice. Anne Arundel voters tossed the dice for John Leopold last November, and now we’re seeing the county executive’s spots.
If you’re surprised and who isn’t? the shock has more do to with what we’ve been conditioned to expect than with what Leopold promised. He said all along that he was no good old boy. And he promised all along to bring citizens to the table over county decisions that affect their lives.
That’s what happened last month, as you’ll read in this week’s story “Dredge Spoils Plan Deep-Sixed: Anne Arundel Exec Leopold dumps two decades of planning and over $1.5 million to “save the communities.” Citizens convinced Leopold that a long-held and deeply invested county’s plan would spoil their quality of life.
He altered the project in a way that protected their interest without violating the interest of other communities in enjoying waterways that are clean and usable.
His goal, he told Bay Weekly, “of balancing those competing community interests” sent county planners back to the drawing board. He accepted that reversal and its associated costs, he said, “because the quality of life issue is important enough to back off.”
If you’re still shocked, it goes to show just how far citizens have been away from the table.
You may be able to dredge up vague memories from late in the last millennium of a process called Small Area Planning. Small Area Planning came about with great brouhaha back in John Gary’s administration, when the county was revising its General Development Plan. We wrote about it a lot over the years, as citizens were nominated and chosen in over a dozen county regions, then worked together to map out what they wanted in their futures.
Plan after plan was imagined, argued and approved, only to seemingly fall into a black hole. The committees were disbanded, and citizen participation in government became a vague memory.
Every time we interviewed Leopold during the 2006 campaign, he promised to revive the spirit, perhaps even some of the processes, of Small Area Planning.
The actions we’re seeing out of the executive’s office convince us that that spirit is again among us. We count the Town Point DMP decision among four big ones where citizens spoke and Leopold listened. The other three: Keeping Target out of Wayson’s Corner, Wal-Mart out of Crofton and leasing the old Naval Academy Dairy Farm. On August 28, citizens are invited to a public hearing at Arundel High School on how best the county should use that farm. The hours are 7-9pm.
In these decisions and others including protections against noise and potential cancer causes the activism we’re seeing in the interest of citizens suggests that Anne Arundel citizens’ gamble on Leopold is paying off so far.