"A seventy-thousand-dollar joke." That was how one Anne Arundel resident described "The Lighthizer Years."
No, not the former county executive's two terms in office, which ended this month, but O. James Lighthizer's $73,000 publication of a retrospective of his tenure.
"This is the very reason we taxpayers went through all the trouble we went through last year," said Robert C. Schaeffer, a leader of a county taxpayer group that fought unsuccessfully earlier this year to place a cap on tax increases. "Lighthizer. His ego has just exceeded our expectations."
Even though he's left the county executive's office, Lighthizer is taking plenty of heat for the recent distribution of a 96-page magazine-style publication titled, "The Lighthizer Years, 1982-1990. Achievement Through Strategic Planning." The cost of producing and mailing 25,000 copies was $73,785, which came out of the county budget.
At the request of the County Council, the county auditor's office is investigating the cost of the publication. Also, a civic group, the Severn River Association, is demanding that Lighthizer reimburse the county for the book.
Lighthizer, who next month is to join Gov. William Donald Schaefer's Cabinet as transportation secretary, couldn't be reached for comment. But his former aides have been busy defending the publication as a way of recapping information for county residents.
Theodore J. Sophocleus, a former County Council member whom Lighthizer supported in his unsuccessful bid to succeed the executive, said he found the publication to be "a little much."
"There have been three or four little books to have come out during his administration," Sophocleus said. "As I recall, one came out at the end of his first term. I think it was called 'Anne Arundel County and You.' People loved that. It was more of a general directory, services available.
"This [new publication] caught everyone by surprise. But it's just the culmination of the Lighthizer years. It's just the icing on the cake. It's just quite expensive icing."
Even though money for the publication came out of the county budget, County Council members said at their meeting Monday they had known nothing of the former executive's plan to publish the booklet.
Sophocleus said the problem lies in the fact that the budget does not provide line-item detail. For instance, $100,000 might be budgeted for publications, but no more specific information is provided on what those publications might be. The county executive is allowed to spend the money as he sees fit, Sophocleus said.
"It's cumbersome, but I think the council is going to have to go back to issuing a line-item information book," Sophocleus said. "I'm not saying we do it for every item, but the major items, yes. And it's going to be up to the councilmen to review every book."
Robert Schaeffer said the thing he finds most interesting is that Lighthizer spent almost as much money on the publication of the retrospective as he did on funding the county's entire Department of Aging.