Defending his vote
From: Edward C. Middlebrooks
I read with interest and concern the letter recently from the Greater Severn Improvement Association Umbrella Organization (GSIAUO) published in your newspaper ["We need fire station," July 19, 1992, Anne Arundel County Sun], regarding my vote during the FY93 budget session on the proposed Ridgeway fire station in Severn.
I have been a lifetime resident of the Severn area -- attended its schools, participated in area activities, brought up my children there -- and know from firsthand experience the needs, assets and problems of Severn communities. As a county councilman, I have worked closely with the many neighborhoods of Severn on a variety of issues. The concerns and interests of the portion of Severn I serve in District 2 are important to me. Equally, I feel a responsibility to all citizens of Anne Arundel County, as my votes on the County Council impact residents in every district of the county.
The issue of constructing the Ridgeway fire station is more complex than the letter from the GSIAUO would indicate. The current harsh economic times and the paring down of the county budget over the last two years have played major roles in reducing the number of capital projects the county undertakes. Gone are the days when an elected official could dole out project upon project for his or her own district with few budgetary obstacles. Today's voters demand accountability from their government on how their tax money is spent. I am not a councilman who believes "pork-barreling" (that is, using government funds as a source of political benefit) is a responsible way to govern.
The issue of paid vs. volunteer firefighting also comes into play with the construction of the Ridgeway fire station. There exists an unfortunate history of rivalry between the professional and volunteer firefighters in this county. The fact that a volunteer fire station currently exists within a very short distance of the proposed Ridgeway fire station location concerns me. I was not convinced during the May budget hearings that citizens in the vicinity of Ridgeway and neighboring sections of Severn would face imminent danger if the fire station were not immediately constructed.
Public safety in this county is of the utmost importance to me. However, I do not believe that the issue of public safety, particularly firefighting, should be the fodder for political dealings. The continuing rivalry between paid and volunteer firefighters is certainly a greater threat to public safety and welfare than the delayed construction of a professional fire station in Severn.
The GSIAUO letter contends that I did not give ample attention to the finding of an eight-member board commissioned by Fire Administrator Paul Haigley on the subject of emergency response times around the county. In studying not one but three reports issued by the commission, I found differing views and separate agendas. We in county government often utilize the expertise and insights of advisory boards in order to get a well-rounded view on crucial county issues. It must be stressed that we depend on these committees for advice, and not to make the final decision on county issues.
The electorate has put their faith in their elected officials to study the issues, listen to constituent concerns, weigh matters against the many vital projects and issues facing the entire county, and render the final decision with their vote. I believe in the value of advisory bodies, but I do not feel that "government by committee" is the foundation of this county or this country. Voters do not elect special interest groups; they elect leaders.
Finally, I am concerned about the motivations of some of the community leaders of Severn in wanting a fire station. Without question, a fire station serves the health, safety and welfare of a community, first and foremost. Yet, in a letter sent to me by Mr. Robert McMurtrie and Mr. Gary Brunt, president and corresponding secretary of GSIAUO, no reference was made to public safety at all. Instead, two requests were made: 1) to include "Severn" in the name of the station, and 2) to include a community hall in the plans of the fire station for community use.
I find it perplexing and a bit disconcerting that the GSIAUO would support spending $3.2 million in county funds on a fire station for use as a community hall. Ironically, architectural plans for county professional fire stations do not include space for community halls.
Again, public safety is one of my primary concerns. I most certainly believe in supporting sufficient manpower for our police, paramedic and fire departments in this county. What I cannot abide is irresponsible and short-sighted funding for multimillion dollar capital projects, based on the sole merit of being located in my district. Make no mistake, my district's concerns are my concerns. But so are the problems facing all of Anne Arundel County: education, tax rates, environment, growth.
I call on Mr. McMurtrie and other community leaders in Severn to take a long-term view of county concerns, in and outside of Severn. I would hope that an issue as vital as public safety would not become a vehicle for one's own self-promotion in the community or the political arena.
It is my fervent hope that the days of "pork-barreling" are behind us.