To hear or not to hear the public, that is the question
The cat is finally out of the bag. The county spokeswoman has given the green light.
The animal I am referring to is the weird and unknown county policy that there is no policy requiring the planning commission to conduct a public hearing prior to any imprimatur on a subdivision plat. The spokeswoman’s recent declaration now compels the question: Why has the county neglected to construct and create a public hearing policy? That asked, everyone in the local government — elected and appointed — preaches the gospel of open government.
To say and identify the absence of policy is too easy, if not intellectually lazy, for a bureaucrat to make. That insults the intelligence.
What should provoke the mind why is the county hesitant to justify such policy absence? Why is it afraid to invite an opposite position? If you call that open government, you are wrong.
I am referring to the strange pronouncement of our local government’s spokeswoman Ms. Donna Fuqua. When asked why no public hearing was done by the planning commission before it approved the final plat for Winsor Manor on Aug. 18, 2008, she replied that existing policy required no such hearing. Period.
The Fuqua declaration is not Donna’s alone; it is being mouthed around by higher bureaucrats like Peter Aluotto and Jason Groth of the county Department of Growth and Management. This is the department that has convinced the appointed members of the planning commission to conduct no public hearings on the evaluation of subdivision plats.
Last year, Mr. Aluotto expressed Ms. Fuqua’s viewpoint on two separate occasions. In both cases, his mind was very clear: any public hearing would only serve as an exercise in futility. Why? It would not be able to change anything anyway, he said. Sounds smart. Or does it?
Stated differently, to do something, there must be a law requiring, commanding, or mandating it. Sounds smart. Or does it?
The purpose of public hearing, and Mr. Aluotto should know it, is to allow people to get involved in their local government. The monopoly of knowledge does not belong to management technocrats like Aluotto. Ultimately, the residual wisdom in government is found among the people who elect their officials and pay the taxes to pay for the bureaucrats.
The illusory assumption that people cannot change anything during a public hearing is a dangerous insult to the intelligence of the public. If the public was heard prior to the unfortunate approval of the Winsor Manor plat, three options would have been presented. One, the use of Creedon Drive. Two, the purchase of the Chesley property by the state or county similar to Chapman’s Forest. Third, the the sale of the property to conservancy groups. And that is what public hearings are all about.
Is there a law prohibiting the planning commission to conduct public hearings in the evaluation of subdivision plats? One does not need to be a lawyer or a student of the Maryland Code to know that such law does not exist. Who then has sold the dumb idea to the planning commission?
Ours is a civilization where we are happy to do a lot of things without need of being required, commanded, or mandated. Ours are values we can be proud of.
First, the value of the extra mile. Government employees like Aluotto, Groth, and Fuqua are not required, commanded, or mandated to go the extra mile in their work. Is there a policy prohibiting them to do so? There is none.
Second, exceeding expectations. Government employees like Alutto, Groth, and Fuqua are not required, commanded, or mandated to exceed expectations in their jobs. Is there a policy prohibiting them to do so? There is none.
Third, thinking outside the box. Government employees like Alutto, Groth, and Fuqua are not required, commanded, or mandated to think outside the box. Is there a policy prohibiting them to do so? There is none.
Conducting a public hearing is not even thinking outside the box. It is all basic and common sense. It is merely promoting the public interest.
Somebody said that the most uncommon form of intelligence is common sense. Another added that there is only one kind of common sense but a thousand varieties of stupidity.
Are we now seeing these varieties in our local bureaucracy? Just asking.
Ulysee Davis, Bryans Road The writer is the president of the South Hampton Home Owners Association Inc.