Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Services No Longer Desired

Howard County has had a tradition, and I believe a good one, of reappointing volunteers to boards and commissions so long as they wish to continue to serve and are not otherwise termed out.  This has been done regardless of party affiliation or change in administration.  Ecker kept Bobo's appointments.  Robey kept Ecker's.  This unwritten rule comes from the basic premise that people wishing to serve their community should not be "fired".  These citizens should not have to stake their ability to serve the community on how the ballots come down in November.  So long as they serve in a nonpartisan fashion, the partisan forces surrounding them should leave them alone.

That tradition has been broken.  On Monday night, Councilmember Jen Terrasa commented that board members were being replaced without explanation.  Only one member of the Council had been provided the names of those being replaced and none of them were informed as to whether the individual was termed out.  Based on my own conversations, some individuals didn't even get notice that they were being replaced.  No e-mail.  No note.  Just a County Bill naming a new replacement for a position they currently held.  One person told me they still had the next meeting on their calendar.

Put yourself in that position.  Politicians may forget that some people serve discretely and without accolade just for the satisfaction of making a difference.  When that is taken away, it can be received as a value judgment on them as a person.  "What did I do wrong?"  "Is it something I said?"  "I didn't even get involved in last year's election."

We as a community should consider whether this is how we want our volunteers to be treated.  These boards are intended to serve and represent us in order to provide community feedback on County laws and operations.  Do we want this service to become overtly politicized?

And this is where the focus should be for future appointments.  No one is interested in testifying against another resident who is interested in serving.  That's not how we do things in Howard County.  But we should testify against this process.  We should be interested in whether good people are being replaced without cause.  We should be interested in whether diversity is being expanded or preserved with new appointments.  And we should continue to expect an answer for why appointments are being made in this fashion.

That's why I balk at the response from the County Executive that the tabling of his appointments is "political" and "Washington-style politics" (HT: Bill W).  Is there anything more "political" than summarily excusing volunteer citizens so that you can get "your people" in there instead?  Does "Washington-style politics" have any relevance other than punishing people for their political affiliation?

Much as been made of the fact that "elections have consequences" and that the County Executive should be permitted to make these appointments undisturbed by the Council.  To quote a jurist who recently had a no-good-very-bad-day, that's pure applesauce.  The Council was elected too and with significant margins over their Republican alternatives.  If they aren't standing up against this type of political hackery, then they aren't doing their job.

At the end of the day, I think the County Executive will reap what he sows on this one.  In the absences of explanation, ejected volunteers will presume their replacement was due to personal animus.  They will make the feeling mutual.

Other reads on the subject:
Village Green/Town Squared - Balancing Act
The 53 - Of Appointments, Petitions and "DC Politics"
HoCo Rudkus - Nominations (Full Stop)

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!