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How come last Monday’s County Council meeting came off like a selection from the Theatre of the Absurd?  Allow me to play the role of drama critic and provide you with a synopsis.

The production was long in the making and highly awaited….as in years (Mulching/composting bill, CB60, was invalidating a hard fought earlier bill with which people were happy just 3 years ago. The new APFO CB61 had been a campaign promise from the 2014 election!)

The Show Must Go On…….but apparently not on time.  Citizens had once again inhaled or skipped their dinners and risked life and limb through Route 29 traffic to be in their seats when the curtain went up at 7:00 pm.  Only the curtain didn’t go up until 8:15. Council members were either still negotiating or rehearsing the lines that were to support their upcoming arguments or express their deep regret.

Regrettably, during this ‘down time’ citizens could not partake in either of the following:

  • A hot beverage.  Not available anywhere in the George Howard Building but needed to warm one’s hands in the frigid Banneker Room and to provide caffeine for the long night ahead) [As an aside, if hot beverage vending machines can’t be added to the first floor lobby, how come we can’t let scout troops or booster clubs take turns selling beverages during Council sessions??]
  • Declaring the winner of the pool. (The “How many police will be present for this evening’s contentious votes” pool.) Apparently they heard us betting while we were in our cars and they decided to ruin our fun….by appearing in plain clothes.  Yes, if you attend enough Council meetings, work sessions, etc. you can ‘pick them out of a line-up’ so to speak, even when not in uniform.

Like all good theatre there were protagonists and antagonists, tag team style in this case.  In the striped trunks were Council members Fox and Sigaty and in the solid trunks were Council members Ball and Terrasa.  Council Chair Weinstein had the unenviable dual role of referee and of tie-breaker.  He sided with the striped team during mulching/composting amendment votes and with the solid team during the APFO amendment votes.

So as not to appear to be imitating the U.S. Congress there were a few amendments that actually received affirmative votes from all.

https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=2892 links to the 30 pages of votes on the mulching/composting amendments and

https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=2890 links to the 50 pages of votes on the APFO amendments

Just when the ‘audience’ was feeling that some monologues were going on endlessly and the clock was about to strike 12, several developer ‘players’ in the audience took photos of the Council and photos of the clock striking midnight. They apparently thought the bill would turn into a pumpkin at that moment and free them to keep operating as usual. You see THEY had pre-calculated that the legislation would die if a vote wasn’t taken before midnight—and promptly left.  Ahhhhaa, but ALL were foiled again.  Under our complicated system for a 125 day deadline from time of introduction to time of vote, the Bills had actually died on midnight of Sunday, rather than Monday!  With the votes invalidated, the session had actually been nothing more than a very long dress rehearsal.

Earliest opinions are that the Amazing Amendments show will now have to go ‘off Broadway’ with CB60 Mulching going back to the Planning Board since it originated as a Zoning Map Amendment (ZRA). CB61 APFO and all of its amendments which ‘passed’ will hopefully be reintroduced in January. Tic Tock. No new legislation can be introduced in December. Hopefully APFO will be reintroduced as it had been amended, rather than starting over.

I really don’t want to be a season ticket holder to see this through. (We’ve been through several seasons already!) Here’s hoping this whole production won’t get turned over to a new Council cast in December of 2018!

No theatre review would be complete without a nomination for best leading actor.  In my opinion the hands down super star for her effort composing amendments in response to citizen testimony—and standing her ground– goes to my Council 3 Member, Jen Terrasa.  (She also issued an excellent summary of all the amendments to help citizens follow along in the complex process that was incredibly helpful.)  Council Member Ball gets my vote for best supporting actor as his support for Ms. Terrasa’s many amendments was crucial.

Really good theatrical productions leave the audience thinking as they return home. I personally struggled with replaying the ending scene where, rather like a Greek tragedy, the audience was warned of impending doom. This doom was to result from passage of the amendment to limit school capacity to 105% for elementary, 110% for middle and 115% for high schools.  As a result, beginning with 2020 almost all of the County will be closed to new development.  A thinking person might ask, “But wait, doesn’t that assume that HoCo will NOT build ANY additional schools?”

Somehow our neighboring counties manage to open a new school a year or even multiple schools in a single year. Why can’t the 4th richest County in the nation do the same?  I’m guessing it has something to do with priorities……….coupled with the low fees developers are charged…….and the insane belief that somehow residential growth will ever pay for itself.

It’s just amazing how with the pressure of APFO, increased exponentially by looming redistricting, the County Executive was able to move up opening a high school by 2 years and purchase an additional school site in Turf Valley.

Keep the pressure up—and meet me on the high road,

Susan