Legislation Covering Planning Commission & Board Of Appeals Members Advisory, Says Sponsor

It was adopted Tuesday afternoon by the County Council.



Frederick, Md. (KM). Legislation enacted by the Frederick County Council on Tuesday stating that members of the Planning Commission and the Board of Appeals be impartial when it comes to land use cases and other issues coming before their respective bodies is not intended to hamstring anyone. That’s according to the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Ton Chmelik.

“Really, more of a guideline. There’s no penalty associated with these new rules on impartiality,” he says.

The measure says Planning Commission and Board of Appeals members “shall aspire” to avoid making commitments, promises or pledges that may be inconsistent with how they perform their duties in office. They should act independently with integrity and impartiality. The legislation says they will not disclose or use non-public information obtained through their role as members of the Planning Commission and Board of Appeals for any reason not related to their official duties.

But Chmelik says they can talk about these issues and land use cases with fellow member of their respective bodies in a public meeting with citizens watching and listening. “The idea is to kind of give them guidelines–some  ethical guidelines, if you will–that hopefully will be followed and interpreted properly so that folks that come before them know that they are being impartial,” he says.

Earlier in the debate over this legislation, some questions were raised about whether any of these provisions violates  1st-Amendment rights under the US Constitution. “Folks were concerned that we had put in language that would forbid Planning Commission members and Board of Appeals members from being able to donate time, or work on campaigns or donate money,” says Chmelik. “Folks need to understand that we actually got these impartiality rules from what judges have to follow.”

He says the ordinance does not interfere with Planning Commission and Board of Appeals members’ 1st-Amendment rights of free speech.

Chmelik says the idea for this bill came about after a sitting Planning Commission member had his  face and name associated with a candidate, and that person’s likeness and name were  placed on campaign literature.. “I find it difficult to believe that anybody that goes before this Planning Commission member knowing the standpoint of the politician who did this could even think they could get an impartial ruling or judgment from a Planning Commission member who does that,” he says.

“It benefits citizens to take a little bit of the politics {out of it}. if you will,” he says. “It’s always difficult to do that.”



By Kevin McManus