Doubtless everyone has seen this letter to the editor in last week's Patuxent newspapers. Below I present a response I will be submitting.
I can agree with Stephen Meskin's letter of February 25 on only two points. First, that citizens have a right to bring matters to referendum. Second, that the use of the referendum has served many valuable purposes over the years. Recent use of the referendum finally settled the statewide debate on slot machine gambling, and allowed the establishment of procedures for early voting.
But I will make an important point that Mr. Meskin fails to address-- because making this point ultimately undercuts the point of his letter. That is, that the referendum is useful if used for a purpose in which the wishes of the public have clearly not been served.
In the case of redevelopment of downtown Columbia, the subject of Mr. Meskin's group's efforts, this simply is not the case. The legislation which was enacted last month was the product of decades of thought and discussion, and over five years of active efforts. It has involved hundreds of stakeholders and has withstood the scrutiny of an exhaustive process. This legislation wasn't rushed; it went through considerable revision and ultimately, was passed unanimously by a bipartisan County Council.
The only people I perceive are unhappy with this process and product are a handful of people who appear to be bound together by their fear of progress and the love of their own voices. While I do not know Mr. Meskin personally, I would advise him against casting his lot with this group. For apparently, their notion of progress consists of continuing to deny opportunities for affordable housing, business development, and managed growth in Howard County.
So while the referendum itself is a noble tool, like any other tool, it can be abused when placed in irresponsible hands. I find the goals of the proponents of this effort irresponsible.