Replacing Hearing Officer is Bad for the County (As Published in The Capital)

Replacing Hearing Officer is Bad for the County (As Published in The Capital)

Buried within last week’s front-page article on marijuana dispensaries was a bombshell that has become the political talk of the county this week.

County Executive Steve Schuh fired Planning and Zoning Administrative Hearing Officer Doug Hollmann and replaced him with former Leopold County Attorney John Hogdson. This decision is bad for the business climate of Anne Arundel.

Doug Hollmann was appointed in 2008 and has built a reputation for the fairness and independence from politics that is essential in that job. He acts as a judge and rules on the special exception, rezoning, and variance requests that businesses need to move projects forward. Many of those businesses are the county’s most active political donors, and of the $1 million war chest that Steve Schuh built while in office, approximately 70% came from companies and individuals whose livelihood depends on decisions made by the Administrative Hearing Officer.

The Capital story leads readers to believe that Schuh fired Hollman because he was too sympathetic to marijuana dispensaries. I worry that Schuh fired Hollman because he was too independent.

Another factor in the firing may have been Schuh’s election-year promise to reduce approvals for variances by 50%. Think about that promise. He is telling us that the Hearing Officer will have a quota. Variance quotas are not a smart growth strategy. They are a politically motivated insult to the professionals who enforce our zoning code. I suspect that Doug Hollmann resisted that quota and pledged to continue ruling in accordance with the law, as he should.

Enter Jon Hogdson, the former county attorney who distinguished himself by insisting that taxpayers finance former County Executive John Leopold’s defense against the charges that put him in jail, and then refused to provide a legal opinion to the county council on a question related to appointing Leopold’s successor as part of an effort to keep his own job. Hogdson’s own deputy refused to go along with his boss’s shenanigans, and Hogdson was fired two weeks later.

Resurrecting Hogdson gives Schuh an indebted Administrative Hearing Officer, the kind who will take direction from his boss.

The Anne Arundel County Charter endows the office of County Executive with great power. Some county executives have used that power for good, and others have abused it. John Leopold abused it, and his employees blew the whistle, landing him in jail.

Steve Schuh was John Leopold’s chosen successor, both as County Executive and as Delegate, but that should not tempt Schuh to govern in Leopold’s style. I’m not talking about what goes on in the back seat of county vehicles. I’m talking about attempting to control the professional employees of the county for political gain.

If Jon Hogdson is brought back to oversee zoning applications, every ruling that impacts a Schuh campaign donor will be questioned. Nothing could be worse for the business climate in Anne Arundel County. Ask developers who operated in Prince George’s County before the current leadership created transparency and rewrote the ethics laws. They didn’t like the pay-to-play system any more than the citizens did, and nobody wants it here.

Instead, let’s do in this county what few have accomplished.

2019 is the year of the General Development Plan. It’s when we take a hard look at the future, not only in terms of zoning, but also our long-term fiscal approach.

Businesses and community leaders agree that growth without schools, infrastructure, and services is a formula for chaos. We need transparency, accessible data, and a budget process that presents options for citizens to consider. We need to use the technology that exists in all of our smart phones and laptops to engage the communities of this county in defining our future.

We are fed up with political machines, political bosses, and pay-to-play decision-making. Let Doug Hollman do his job, and let’s come together as citizens to do ours.

My pledge as your next county executive is to bring communities together and listen.

- Steuart Pittman


Posted on 22 Mar 2018, 01:33 - Category: Campaign News

By Authority of Friends of Steuart Pittman, VIrginia Clagett Treasurer
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