Message to Planners: People Are Watching You

There’s something to the old saying about the gods granting your wishes -- when they want to punish you. Anne Arundel County planners probably know that irony as well as anybody.

The pundits say we live in an era of fading citizen participation. One bit of evidence: Fewer of us percentage-wise voted in the November election than in any year since 1942. Even if we go to the polls, we’re often baffled about who’s who and what’s what.

For one reason, the language of political debate might as well be Greek to most of us. For another, people often can’t see how the issues being debated affect their lives.

When Anne Arundel County planners were putting together the county’s updated development plan a couple years ago, they put on their thinking caps to get citizens to care. Small area planning committees were the lure they devised.

Citizens bit -- hook line and sinker. Throughout the county, they rose to the promise of being listened to. Now they’re demanding that the county take them seriously.

Which is how county planners have gotten to know the gods.

Every word and deed of the county department of Planning and Code Enforcement, which calls itself PACE, is sniffed for any whiff of indifference -- or high-handedness.

When planners invite the public to view proposed zoning changes in the first six planning areas before the committees’ reports are final -- and with no apparent coordination with the committees -- they’re not only criticized for their timing but also suspected of Machiavellian intent.

When their presentation of those maps falls short of the high standard of clarity and involvement set in earlier public meetings, citizens bristle at being left out.

When the issue of zoning goes before the county council, the disconnect only gets worse. Citizens feel as confused as Alice did in Wonderland when they don’t know the rules of the game -- or the influence or the motives of the players.

When new citizen planners are named, those who get left out feel jilted.

Even when plans are being wrapped up, citizens who’ve labored for a year wonder if their work will be heeded -- or headed for file 13.

Never has that scrutiny been more intense, more suspicious than now, when the first six small area planning committees are nearing completion of their work and the next six beginning theirs.

It’s like walking on thin ice out there.

We’re writing today because we’ve been moved by the vitality of the hope we’ve seen among our fellow citizens -- and the fragility of their faith. We’re writing because we, too, believe in the small area planning process -- in its contribution today and in the future.

We wouldn’t be a bit surprised if planners were bristling a bit at the hostility that surrounds them.

So we want to remind our planners that their prayers are coming true -- and suggest that while we’re all only human, they’re going to have to be superhuman during these challenging times. That means paying the honor of paying attention.

| Issue 10 |

Volume VII Number 10
March 11-17, 1999
New Bay Times

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