There are several ways for the public to participate in land use decisions in Harford County. People can testify at public hearings, provide written comments, address the County Council at legislative meetings, create petitions, and initiate public referendums.
The County Council’s public hearings on legislation (bills and resolutions) are conducted just prior to regular Council meetings. To speak, citizens must sign up to speak at least 15 minutes before the start of the hearing.
Individuals are allowed 3 minutes; speakers representing a group are allowed 5 minutes apiece. Public hearings held by the County Executive or his staff will provide their rules in the hearing announcement itself.
As Friends of Harford learns about a hearing on a land use issue, we email a “FOH Alert” to notify everyone on our email list.
Comments can be emailed on any subject at any time to the County Executive, the County Council or the Director of Planning and Zoning.
In recent years, the Executive’s staff has written nearly all land use legislation; the Council amends and votes to approve.
Addressing the Council
Under the Council’s “Comments from Attending Citizens” agenda item at the end of each Council meeting, speakers can address almost any topic (except subject matters that are currently before the Council, such as zoning cases and legislation which can not be discussed until the meeting following the final action).
For example, you can ask the Council for legislation to solve an issue you’re concerned about. There’s no time limit although brevity is appreciated.
Speakers must sign up BEFORE agenda item 13 Unfinished Business; if you are unsure if you will want to speak, sign up anyway as you can always decline (or just leave).
Writing a public petition
Petitions can help to raise awareness about an issue in the community, or help to inform decision-makers about the opinion of their constituents.
A simple, straightforward, and carefully-worded petition can also bring an issue up for a county-wide vote. Here are some suggestions for writing a petition.
How to initiate public referendums
Harford County voters may decide that they want to vote on a bill that has been passed by the County Council. A referendum allows the voters to decide whether a bill should pass or fail. Normally, that means that while a majority of the County Council (four members) do support the bill, many citizens do not support or agree with them and wish to have all the voters of the County decide whether they endorse the bill.
A bill becomes effective as County Law 60 days after the County Council passes it and the County Executive signs it. Before that 60 days lapses, voters may petition for a referendum.
If five percent of the voters in the County sign the referendum petition sheet, then at the very next scheduled election, every voter in the County will have the opportunity to decide whether the bill in question (note that the language of the question on the ballot is written by the County and not as written on the referendum sheets) should be enacted or should be “vetoed” by the citizens. County Code 4-22.
Referendums cannot be initiated for bills imposing a tax, appropriating expenses, establishing Councilmanic districts or Board of Appeals decisions (§ 4-22 of the County Code).