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Home-rule charter could include steeper parking penalties

September 28, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

I don't blame Rod Shoop one bit. If I were Washington County administrator, you can bet I'd be getting out of town, too, while the getting is good.

Give me a 3-wood and send me to South Carolina. No, scratch that. Send me to South America, the South of France, South Korea, South Africa, Bell South, Southwest Airlines. Want to get away? Yes. Yes, I do.

Shoop is smart, and I'm guessing he viewed with considerable interest that a gang of folks has been appointed by the current County Commissioners to redraw county government in the form of charter home rule.

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A dozen strong-willed people with a dozen different agendas seeking to redraw the rules?

What could possibly go wrong with that?

He may have jumped the gun, however. This is, after all, Washington County, and task forces don't ever seem to work with what you would call gazelle-like speed.

I think we appointed a task force to solve the fire and rescue crisis back in 1990. So far, they haven't even dropped us a card.

I'm in favor of home rule, I guess, sort of in the vague, theoretical way I am in favor of hover cars. There's the possibility of improvement, but there is also the possibility that all heck would break loose. If people can't figure out how to use a turn signal now, what's going to happen when - well, you get the idea.

Essentially, home rule is a bet that the yo-yos we elect at the local level will be slightly smarter than the yo-yos we elect at the state level. Even if that is true now, how do we know it's going to be true 10 years from now?

Until we can guarantee that our local elected leaders will be able to tell TDRs from VCRs, that's a shaky bet. County Commissioner Jim Kercheval tried to float the idea of transferable development rights as a way of compensating rural landowners for lower land values attributable to tighter zoning rules - but it was too much, apparently, for the remainder of the board to noodle through.

But at least the county seems to have a notion that some things need to be done, even if they can't quite come to grips with what that something is. The same can't be said for our state delegation, which isn't much interested in anything that can't be parlayed into party politics.

This is hurtful, because as it stands now, we pretty much have to depend on our state lawmakers for any action involving the way the county works. Clip this paragraph out. It may be the last time you see the words "state lawmakers" and "action" in the same sentence for some time to come.

So as the county volleyball rolls into the surf, that leaves the commissioners looking to state lawmakers saying "little help?" only to find lawmakers too preoccupied with partisan bikinis to lend a hand.

The county wants the power to go get the ball itself, instead of relying on the state. Of course, the state lawmakers don't like the idea, because even if they can't help, they want to be asked - because it makes them feel important.

On the other hand, the current system does allow for state lawmakers to act as a "checks and balance" should we ever elect a commission that goes nuts and decides that it wants to, for example, declare war on Cumberland.

Indeed, it is hard to think the County Commissioners would have acted on their own to keep the recent property-tax assessments somewhat in check without state lawmakers breathing down their necks.

So in the end, who knows what the right answer is. Not me, that's for certain. I just hope the committee that's drawing up the proposed charter has some fun with it:

Double parking on Locust Street, especially when there is an empty space just two cars down, is punishable by death.

Riding a scooter that has no muffler is punishable by death.

Building a pretentious house so large that you don't have any money left over to furnish it is punishable by death.

Parking your motorcycle in a handicapped space, punishable by death.

Yard sales will be knocked over, burned down, blown up and then punishable by death.

I have plenty more good ideas such as these if anyone wants to ask.

In retrospect, however, the County Commissioners did have one good idea of their own. They didn't put me on the home rule committee.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columist.

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