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No columnist writes his or her columns completely alone. (I say this so that you, the reader, will realize you might need to gather more than one rock to throw.)

I have folks who offer tips, ideas and sometimes even research that help me along, or at least point me in a direction. One such person is a reader who performs strong research and sends me ideas and information.

Our common bond is that we both want good government -- and, sadly, we don't always see the ideal here in Carroll County.

My friend was one of the first to note that Carroll County last week advertised an offer of $23.5 million for 254 acres of land just outside Mount Airy -- as also reported on The Eagle's Web site, explorecarroll.com.

Using that advertisement, my friend followed the information trail to what prompted it: a lawsuit against our Board of County Commissioners in which a builder -- who had been granted approval in the form of a concurrency management certificate for two projects along Ridge Road -- were told by the county they couldn't build after all.

The developers, Forty West Builders, were and are reputable builders with many successful projects in Carroll, and had played by the rules, performing the engineering, road studies and water reviews.

They had legal rights to build, and after they had the county's certificate in hand, they plunked down a reported $7 million to purchase the land.

But then, after the commissioner elections of 2002, the trifecta of Julia Gouge, Dean Minnich and Perry Jones adopted an ordinance that halted projects that hadn't reached a certain stage in the planning process.

In other words, they changed the rules in mid-stream.

A county Circuit Court ruling fell in the developer's favor, and here we are.

The attempt to buy the land now from Forty West is essentially a way to make the lawsuit go away, prevent the land from being developed -- and eliminate a potentially larger payout.

If the developer refuses to sell, the county might still have to pay damages from the lawsuit that -- by the county's own estimate -- could be as high as $35 million.

It's not the first such case. The commissioners also tried to halt a housing project in Eldersburg near Carrolltown Center. Those developers also won in court, and that project is now under way.

I guess the commissioners are hoping that one day, the property taxes might offset the legal fees spent.

I have my own theories on how the commissioner board approved this doomed ordinance, but it reminds me of the true wisdom of keeping those with dissenting views nearby.

The board of that time was famous for speaking in one voice -- and here's where that lack of opposing views bites us all. I don't believe in that era that I ever heard either Jones or Minnich object to a proposal from the board president, Gouge -- at least not publicly.

The result in this instance is that thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent defending actions that essentially broke a binding contract.

And now folks, taxpayers might wind up on the hook for $23.5 million -- or more if the developer pursues damages instead of selling.

Certainly the commissioners' defense will come in the form of a statement against "uncontrolled" growth -- something like, "We stopped that development because we have too much building in Carroll County!"

Good play for the NIMBY (not in my back yard) crowd, but I hope the smart ones will say, "Good idea ... but why didn't you just stop those that didn't have binding legal rights?"

In the meantime, if you see me jumping around uncontrollably these days, it might be because Commissioner Gouge has perfected the art of voodoo pin sticking!


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