Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Post editorial on the PG County Council and ethics

A blogger-activist life is complicated, because you are constantly boundary spanning, and not everything you do is written about in a blog or on twitter (which I don't do anyway). Sometimes I write pieces critical of how government works at the executive branch or legislative branch level. Sometimes I criticize newspapers for what they write.

But you always walk a delicate line between being perceived as being "critical", personally critical, or providing reasoned "criticism" and "critical analysis."

A lot of people have a hard time seeing the difference, any criticism, reasoned or not, is seen as negative and unproductive.

Since the point of activism isn't to be unproductive, you have to constantly walk the line between public criticism/critical analysis such as a blog entry or an op-ed in a local newspaper vs. pushing the right thing privately, in emails to various people, including journalists, when you think they've written something that misses the point.

In the previous newspaper coverage about Prince George's County Council and ethical challenges, I ended up sending a lot of emails to journalists, because I thought their analyses were pretty constrained, that they didn't understand the problems are evidenced in how the system of development and contract approvals is organized in ways that promote self-interested involvement and that this has to change if you want to have fundamental improvements concerning ethics.

So I was really pleased to see today's Post editorial, "Why block ethics reform?," and this specifically:

Still, the new council is fighting Mr. Baker's ethical reforms in the name of its own precious prerogatives - exactly the prerogatives that helped saddle the county with the abysmal regional and national image it suffers from today.

One of Mr. Baker's proposals would end the insidious practice whereby individual council members can halt proposed development projects in their districts at the 11th hour, extract unspecified concessions and then be assured that the full council will rubber-stamp the outcome. This procedure has been an open invitation for abuse and corruption.

Not only that, but it is virtually unheard of in other local governments in Maryland, where the policy is to leave the details of development projects - curbs, gutters, building materials and the like - to planning boards and planning professionals. This is wise policy, precisely so that politically inspired mischief by elected officials, and the potential for abuse, are minimized.

It's not exactly true, other county councils in Maryland have the ability to get overinvolved in such matters as well, but none is as base as the process in Prince George's County, which had been the subject of past blog entries (such as "The system of corruption: when you don't understand "systems", of corruption or anything else, you don't understand outcomes") and other missives.
book cover, Corrupt Cities: A Practical Guide to Cure and Prevention by Robert Klitgaard, H. Lindsey Parris

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