The right to petition the government through referendum is a key component of our democracy. Unfortunately this right can be abused by anti growth activists to overturn zoning decisions they don’t like.
Such appears to be the case with the Howard County Citizens for Open Government or HiCCOG. This new group has been formed primarily to overturn Council Bill 58 which allows a 55,000 square foot grocery store in a Planned Golf Course Community as opposed to an 18,000 square foot grocery. Turf Valley is the only community in Howard County that has this PGCC zoning designation and the change was requested by the developer of a proposed shopping center in that community. The majority of the people in the communities surrounding the project seem to be in favor of this change and it was unanimously approved by the county council. Hiccog has launched a petition drive to overturn this decision through a referendum.
Who the heck is Hiccog?
As near as I can tell Hiccog is primarily Marc Norman and Frank Martin. These two guys have been frequent opponents of the Mangione family plans for Turf Valley. Undoubtedly they will be joined in their referendum crusade by other anti growth activists in the county. They need only to get 5,000 signatures of registered voters in less than 60 days to get this issue on a ballot.
While some may think that an insurmountable task, it is not really as difficult as it sounds. Picture the shopper coming out of the grocery store on a cold Saturday afternoon being approached by a petition pusher.
“Are you a registered voter in Howard County?”
“Would you sign our petition from Howard County Citizens for Open Government?”
“Open government? Sure, who doesn’t want open government?”
No doubt some folks will actually read the referendum language but I’m guessing that when its 30 degrees outside and you have a load of groceries, most folks will simply sign away without asking too many questions. Besides, referendums are all part of a healthy democracy aren’t they?
When used properly yes. When used to fight a minor zoning squabble, not so much in my opinion.
Then fire away.