Nasty Bureaucratic Squabble

August 09, 1991

Now that the National Endowment for the Arts has decided to get nasty with the Maryland State Arts Council, the state agency should take the more diplomatic path and quietly resolve this seven-month bureaucratic squabble over accessibility of council offices for the handicapped.

For months, the NEA and the state arts council have been engaged in a volleyball match over the council's compliance with a 1973 law barring funds for any group that discriminates against the handicapped. The state finally acknowledged shortcomings in the council's offices and pledged changes. That didn't satisfy the NEA, which insisted on immediate compliance and explicit details. It suspended $550,000 in NEA grant money pending completion of this work.

How much better it would have been had the NEA continued its dialogue with state officials. No one disagreed that the offices must be made accessible to those with disabilities. It boiled down to state bureaucrats being unable to give federal bureaucrats the precise details in the precise form required, or to perform the repairs immediately. Of course, arts council leaders didn't help matters by failing to respond to NEA requests for information promptly and not giving the federal agency more specifics on planned office changes. Still, the matter could have and should have been resolved without threats and funding suspensions.

Now arts council officials say offices open to the public will be handicapped-accessible or they will move to other facilities. Meanwhile, future arts council meetings will be held at the Baltimore League for the Handicapped headquarters. These steps should satisfy federal bureaucrats -- unless they are trying to pick a fight.

By the time the arts council is ready to hand out its next round of grants, this brouhaha should be ancient history, and the handicapped will have full access to the council's public offices. That is only right. Then, perhaps, both the NEA and the state council can concern themselves with fostering the arts -- their raison d'etre -- and stop this costly and time-consuming bickering.

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