Video Screens and a $35,000 Table

July 01, 1991

Recession has its benefits. It makes taxpayers more conscious about priorities and costs. And when taxpayers get vigilant, elected officials tend to become more responsive, too.

In Virginia, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors has voted to spend $1,000 to cancel its order for a $35,000 custom-made granite conference table. That table was to be crafted for the county's new $100 million administrative building. "We want it to work and work well, but we don't want it to be extraordinarily elaborate," said the board's leader, Audrey Moore, of the plush building, which will include a gym for county employees, mahogany paneling, skylights and granite floors.

Closer to home, Anne Arundel County is wondering what to do about two computer terminals installed, for $100,000, in the Annapolis Mall and the North County Library last year to provide information services. With the aid of a video computer terminal, citizens could learn about county services by touching the screen. O. James Lighthizer, who was the county executive at the time, hailed the machines as a "city hall in the mall."

Mr. Lighthizer has since moved on to bigger and better things. The new administration of County Executive Robert R. Neall, in turn, does not see the need for this service during a recession. "It's another casualty of the economic conditions. If we were breezing along and had money to burn, we probably would continue the project," a spokeswoman explained.

The easy thing would be to scrap the computer kiosks. But the service has prompted inquiries from other counties and the Harvard Business School. An average of 2,400 people a month are reported to use the machine in the Annapolis Mall. The majority of the users are children, who like the whiz-bang aspect of the computer.

In trying to decide what to do, the Neall administration is getting lots of conflicting advice from county bureaucrats. Perhaps the decision would be easier if they had bought a new granite table.

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