David W. Almy, the chief trouble-shooter and former campaign managerfor County Executive Robert R. Neall, has accepted a permanent post as Anne Arundel's drug czar.
Almy, a Neall confidant who became acting director of the Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs in June, is the second man to lead the county's war on drugs. The first drug czar, Huntley J. Cross, left after 19 months to return to directing the school system's widely praised substance-abuse program.
Yesterday's appointment heartened members of the newly renamed Drug and Alcohol Prevention Program, who were unsettled by criticism earlier this year and the prospect of a move. Neall announced in May that he planned to place the office, formerly an independent agency under the county executive, under the Health Department.
His decisionwas prompted in part by a report from his transition team that praised the office's high profile but criticized its overall effectiveness. The report recommended setting clear goals and focusing more on grass-roots prevention efforts.
Though it has remained in the county executive's wing of the Arundel Center in Annapolis, the office has been officially under the Health Department's control since July. County Health Officer Thomas C. Andrews wants to move the office to one of the Open Door drug-treatment centers.
Andrews, who selected Almyfor the directorship after interviewing three candidates and consulting with Neall, emphasized that the program's direction will change. The role of the drug czar will be less flashy and more focused on working with community leaders, he said.
"Our plan right now is to call a countywide meeting of community groups and associations to get help in developing a plan for action," he said.
"The thrust of it will be trench warfare. This is the kind of effort that's going to take all 450,000 people in this county to get it to work -- not just one."
Almy, who will receive an annual salary of $47,000, said he is comfortable working behind the scenes.
"The news will not be me, the news will be what the program's successes are going to be," Almy said yesterday. "I am not going to be a high-profile director. What isrelevant is the results."
The 32-year-old former journalist and press secretary acknowledged he has little drug-prevention experience but cited his management skills. He has served as deputy chief of staff and as a high-level trouble-shooter since managing Neall's successful bid for office.
Neall, a three-term state legislator who became Maryland's firstdrug czar, has emphasized the need for continuing drug-education and -treatment programs. He promised that the county's drug-prevention efforts would not fade away but instead would be strengthened by oversight from the Health Department.
The nine-member drug office lost some of its visibility during the transition this summer. Though the staff ran programs for children in the county's public housing communities, no splashy projects were planned to draw officials and television crews.
There was "a hunker-down period" to assess the program and line up enough state grants to finance the office's $472,000 budget, Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said.
With Almy's appointment and the planned move, the Drug and Alcohol Prevention Program is ready to concentrate on new efforts. An anti-drug festival and basketball game is planned for Saturday at the Annapolis Gardens playground. Almy and his staff also are drafting along-range plan to take the war on drugs to the streets of Anne Arundel County.
"Ithink my personal goal is to be able to show some measurable improvement in the drug and alcohol abuse problem here over some time -- thekey word being measurable," Almy said.
"We have to put together programs and actions that will make a clear difference."