Royce Hanson will be gone but hardly forgotten when the Montgomery County Council votes today to choose his successor as chairman of the county planning board.
To residents who watched skeptically over the past eight years as Hanson made the chairman a post second in influence only to that of county executive, the exact dutied of the post and who now will carry them out are critical issues to the country's future.
Twelve candidates -- including three former council members -- have applied for the job that the council has refused to alter despite the protest of civic organizations that the chairman has assumed too much control over planning decisions.
A coalition of citizens groups tried to slow the appointment process down, urging the Council to review the office and think carefully before naming a new chairman. They failed, and now charge that the appointment of a chairman with the same views as Hanson is assured.
"This is crazy. It's horrible. It makes no sense and it smells of politics," said George Christopher, a spokesman for 200 civic leaders who have opposed the speed with which a chairman is being chosen.
The new chairman will be paid from $45,000 to $60,000 a year to head an agency with a staff of 110. The close cooperation of the Planning Board and the County Council over the last 10 years has led many citizen groups to charge that the Council has abdicated its planning and zoning responsibilities.
While the Planning Board's duties to vote on master plans and zoning amendments are carefully spelled out, the role of chairman is undefined. He speaks for the Board, and he is the Council's chief planning adviser.
Citizens have petitioned the Council to review the office because they fear the office has become too much a product of the chairman's personality.
Hanson's duties nominally were to represent the five-member Board and act as liaison between the Board and the planning staff, and between the Board and the Council. Hanson did more that that. He led the staff, he advocated policies and, with the force of staff expertise behind his arguments, he swayed opinions on both the Board and the Council.
The acedemic in Hanson -- for 17 years he taught government and public administration at American University -- believed in the possibility of achieving excellence in planning. The politician in Hanson -- he was three times defeated in races for political office -- knew that control of land use decisions in Montgomery County was a power base without parallel.
Under Hanson's direction, the planning staff updated sectional master plans to increase density around Metro stations, preserved the right of way for a cross-county freeway that may never be built, downzoned business districts, added new zones with optional development methods combining high density with open space requirements, and carried out its most recent zoning coup, the Agricultural Preservation Plan.
Zoning and planning decisions are the responsibililty of the County Council, but their changes in Planning Board recommendations have been minor.
Hanson believed that plans brought before the Council should not need substantive changes.
To some of the public, the Council's regular concurrence was an abdication of responsibility, and as the Council nears a vote on Hanson's successor, a coalition of citizens groups have protested.