Monday, March 27, 2006

In Belmont we trust...

The pitfalls of blogging are numerous and unavoidable, but the biggest has to be the propensity to overreact to stories.

Freed from the constraints of objectivity, bloggers can say whatever they want about pretty much anything. And since blogging is usually a real time activity – that is, posts are written as an immediate response to a particular stimulus (news story) – many thoughts are not run through mental or emotional filters. Immediacy can make things more exciting/interesting to read, but it often raises the tone to the point where reasoned thoughts, positions, and arguments are drowned out by the screaming.

To avoid coming off as a reactionary, I usually read the news in the morning, contemplate what I’m going to write during the day, and write with a clearer, more grounded mind when I get home from work. (Sometimes, however, the fire is still burning when I write.)

If the fear of overreacting is strong, the fear of under reacting is nonexistent. But maybe it shouldn’t be.

After rereading yesterday’s post about Belmont, I think I’m guilty of underplaying what is in reality a very disturbing story. For those of you too “busy” to read the background, here are the Cliffs Notes: Developer Harry “Chip” Lundy gave Howard Community College’s foundation $1 million to help it buy the Belmont Conference Center. In exchange for his generous “gift,” Lundy signed a secret, written agreement with the foundation that called for the development of senior housing on the property. Although the college mentioned senior housing as a possibility in the beginning, there was no mention of any agreement with Lundy. And, indeed, just last month college president Mary Ellen Duncan lied about the nature of Lundy’s “gift.”

Now here’s what I said yesterday.

Although the county is working on a plan to buy the estate from the college, which would eliminate the possibility of further development on the plan, HCC's standing in the community will surely take a hit. Poorly handling the public relations component of it's Belmont plan was one thing, but entering into a secret agreement with a developer -- while publicly maintaining such an agreement didn't exist -- is borderline inexcusable, especially in these times when the perception that developers can get whatever they want by putting money in the right pockets.
Borderline inexcusable? It was borderline inexcusable for me to let them get off such soft language.

It was borderline inexcusable that the college foundation entered into the agreement with Lundy.

It was inexcusable that they failed to disclose this fact to the public from the beginning, even as residents clamored for information and lobbed charges to that effect at the foundation.

It was beyond inexcusable to lie about this when asked by Howard County’s General Assembly delegation last month.

But I’m not concerned about the impact this will have on HCC, which is a tremendous community asset (remember, a college is much more than it’s president, who I think is deserving of denunciation for her handling of this entire situation). I’m also not concerned about Lundy because as a developer, he is already loathed by and makes more money than 90 percent of Howard residents; this won’t really change things for him. I am finally not concerned about how this will affect Belmont itself, as the county is poised to purchase and preserve it anyway.

What I’m concerned about is how this situation will affect the growing perception that secret agreements, between developers and public officials, whether implicit or explicit, are commonplace.

I try to take things at face value. I try to believe that our leaders are doing what they honestly think is best for us and our county – what we elected them to do – and that what they tell us is truthful. I try to believe that developers play by the same rules we do and that they have a long term interest in seeing this county prosper. I try to believe that votes, the will of the people, are more important to electoral success than money.

Then I read a story like this.

Howard County Blog #1 has some thoughts on this as well.

No comments: