A Call for Counsel

The article on the Office of the People's Counsel ["A Resource for Good Counsel on Development Issues," Montgomery Extra, July 15] highlighted two important aspects of life in Montgomery County: Official decision making is very process oriented, and citizens can play an important role in that process.

The key to citizen participation is understanding the process for the particular matter involved. During the five years I served as Montgomery County's public hearing officer, I found that citizens were eager to be involved in matters up for decision and to share their views, but often felt stymied or frustrated by misunderstandings or lack of knowledge about what was happening and why.

To remedy this, I included in my hearings detailed explanations of the decision-making process and provided a question-and-answer period. While this lengthened the hearing time, it resulted in far more meaningful citizen input for county executive decision-making.

Marty Klauber, the people's counsel, does an excellent job of educating citizens who want to be involved in zoning matters. For the many non-zoning matters -- such as road projects, new sidewalks, real property disposition and neighborhood parking restrictions -- that also can significantly affect communities and individuals, no office or individual provides a similar service.

Given the value the county places on citizen input, remedying this apparent oversight would be beneficial to both citizens and county decision makers.

Ron Berger