Bill Evans!
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Godzilla - the sequel.

Last week I suggested that the first duty of the new commissioners would be to reshape the county’s ”Godzilla bureaucracy” into a team of county employees working on the same page toward objectives that are responsive to the needs and wishes of Queen Anne’s citizens. 

Most of the feedback I’ve gotten concurred, but one wanted detail. “I know what you meant, but couldn’t you have been more specific,” asked someone who knows what buttons of mine to push. 

He’s absolutely right. I could have been more specific. And will be. 

But first, I’d like to qualify what I wrote last week so there’s no misunderstanding. My characterization of the county bureaucracy was not meant as a criticism of county workers. The employees I know personally are good people, good workers, and good citizens. And many I believe would like to see change as well. 

Where I have my biggest problem (no surprise here) is with Planning and Zoning. Two years ago, almost to the day, a county planner responded to a column that asked many of the same questions most citizens were asking about the direction they were taking. The response, which was nearly two newspaper pages long would become a remarkably accurate prophesy of things to come. 

The letter was written by a county planner, not the department head. We have no idea whether it was released with his approval, but since no disclaimers were forthcoming, we can assume it had his blessing either before or after the fact. 

The letter made little attempt to cover up the low regard that planning and zoning had for the concerns of the citizens. We were talked down to. Told we didn’t know what we were talking about. And even called names - NIMBYS (Not In My Backyard) and LOBS (Last Over The Bridge). 

We were told that Kent Islander’s had approved the direction the county was taking in citizens advisory committee meetings (NOT TRUE) and that the plans were arrived at through significant public input (NOT TRUE).

We were told that the planned development of Kent Island met all of Maryland’s Smart Growth guidelines (NOT EVEN CLOSE TO TRUE).

And every major point mentioned in this response coincidently would become, almost word for word, the arguments used by the commissioners to defend the county’s growth policy, leaving little question about where that policy was really coming from.

There was something else going on that was disturbing to me, and others. But curiously it is something no one discussed in public. 

A lead attorney retained to negotiate with the county by the developers of nearly every major project from WalMart to Four Seasons over the past few years was Joe Stevens, Queen Anne’s former head of Planning and Zoning.

Presumably, he was hired because he knows how the department works, and how to get things done. I have no problem with this. There’s nothing unethical about a private practice attorney using his special knowledge to solicit clients. 

But when you consider that many of the planners, including the current head of Planning and Zoning, did in fact used to work for Mr. Stevens, wouldn’t you think that someone might have wondered out loud about the potential for the appearance of impropriety when these same people were negotiating on the county’s behalf with their ex boss. Or, at the very least, someone might have legitimately questioned whether our negotiating power was compromised by the situation.

If not the appearance of impropriety, it certainly had the appearance of a very bad business decision.

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© 2000 - 2002 Bill Evans.  Used By Permission.  All Rights Reserved.
Two Cents Worth columns appear weekly in the Bay Times in spite of the editor’s usual good taste and judgment.

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