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A flub all around

August 01, 2011

Few sides have handled themselves with aplomb in the appointment this year of a developer to sit on the Washington County Planning Commission — or, to put a more positive spin on it, there is ample opportunity for all involved to learn from their myriad mistakes.

Planning commission appointments have always been tricky. A proper candidate should know his or her way around development, but should not have so many of his or her own projects on the drawing board that an appearance of conflict might arise.

An argument can be made that, as president of Washco Developments, Sassan Shaool is too closely tied to development to leave all his biases behind when he takes his seat on the county planning commission.

Or, perhaps he is a champion of compartmentalization and could easily do both; we don’t really know.

But as appearances go, it was probably an unfortunate appointment from the County Commissioners’ standpoint, because the commissioners have a lengthy track record of relaxing development taxes and there’s a perception, accurate or not, that they are too cozy with builders.

It was also a terrible decision by Commissioner Bill McKinley to move for Shaool’s appointment, seeing as how the developer had contributed to McKinley’s election campaign. That crosses the line from appearance to substance.

So a preservation group opposed to Shaool’s appointment might have had the high ground, until it botched an anti-Shaool campaign, claiming (after apparently getting Shaool confused with his cousin) that Shaool didn’t live in Washington County. The group, Citizens for the Protection of Washington County, also inaccurately claimed Sassan Shaool didn’t vote here.

The group’s president, James Laird, fell back on the “everybody’s wrong sometimes” defense, which is hardly good enough when publicly attacking a man’s reputation and veracity. Citizens for the Protection of Washington County has always stood as a credible organization, but this gaffe will cost it in terms of credibility.

To add to the mix, Shaool didn’t help himself when he refused to address a claim that he listed his home as Bethesda on his Facebook page.

At this point there’s little to do but wish Shaool the best on the commission — he will have the added burden of knowing that he will be carefully watched by preservationists, so there’s every chance he will be encouraged to bend over backward to be scrupulously fair. And if that does indeed happen, perhaps some good can come out of what has been an all-around bad situation.

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Editor's note: This editorial was edited Aug. 1, 2011, to correct the spelling of Sassan Shaool's name in the seventh paragraph.

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