I Can Speak Now, And I Like Schaeffer If you don't agree, call or, better yet, write.


October 04, 1992|By ELISE ARMACOST

He's an opinionated, bombastic blowhard who can't hold a conversation without wearing out your ears. But I like him.

There. I've said it. I like Bob Schaeffer, property tax rebel, lone wolf of the local GOP and thorn in Bobby Neall's side.

Maybe it's because he's a great quote. Maybe it's because his eyes get all crinkly with glee when people say he's an opinionated, bombastic blowhard. Maybe it's because he looks just like my father-in-law. But I like him. And now I can say so.

As a reporter covering Anne Arundel County government, I've always wanted to say it, but I couldn't.

Reporters, you see, aren't allowed to say what they think about anything. They can tell you what Bob Schaeffer did yesterday, they can tell you what other people think about what he did, but they keep their own two cents to themselves.

Alas, liberation is at hand. I am not a reporter any more. The Sun has given me this space, to be filled every Sunday with anything I want to say about Anne Arundel County.

Oh, it's going to be wonderful -- wonderful at last to rail against those absurd dawn-to-dusk school board meetings. Wonderful to criticize state Sen. John A. Cade for bullying people. Wonderful to suggest that the county executive buy his suits a size larger. (Though we must admit: The problem of Mr. Neall's suits has declined noticeably since he bought his new rowing machine.)

I can say something nice about people like Del. John Gary, whose extreme social conservatism may be unsettling but whose vast knowledge of local politics and willingness to share it surpasses just about anyone else's.

I can call the new high-span Severn River bridge an eyesore and announce what I've known for a long time: that Ritchie Highway has gotten a bad rap. Ever since I can remember, Ritchie has been held up as the ultimate highway horror. This is a great injustice. Have you ever seen U.S. 301 in Waldorf, or Pulaski Highway?

Of course, I'm not just going to vent my spleen every week. I hope to help you make sense of the news so you can come to some conclusion about what it means.

If the world were a simple place, we would be able to read the papers every day and make our conclusions instantly. But we all know that it is the rare issue, the rare event, that is so clear-cut that we can see to the heart of the matter without analysis and contemplation.

This county faces many complex issues that demand thoughtful attention. Here are a few:

* The budget crisis. With aid from the federal and state governments shrinking rapidly and revenue from income taxes and other sources dwindling, everyone agrees local government must get smaller. But no one agrees which services should be reduced or eliminated.

* Taxes. In a month, citizens will vote on a charter amendment to cap property taxes. Is this the answer to protecting homeowners from a government that relies increasingly on the property tax, or a sure bet to ruin public services?

* Schools. The budget crisis guarantees friction between the government and the school board, and between both of those entities and parents and teachers. In addition, we have a factionalized school board, a new superintendent and controversies ranging from whether too many bureaucrats work at school headquarters to a new, higher grade point average minimum for student-athletes.

* The environment. The county's basic philosophy is that growth is essential for prosperity. Do county officials err too far on the side of development? The land, the Chesapeake Bay and other natural resources historically have been treated as if they could always be replaced. Now it is clear they cannot. How should Anne Arundel manage the resources that remain?

* The city of Annapolis. Like all small towns, the state capital finds itself caught up in the struggle to keep a thriving business district. Not only that, Annapolitans face the question of what kind of city they want theirs to become. The recent fight over a little yogurt shop shows how narrow a vision some city residents have.

You won't always agree with what I say. For that matter, my views will not always coincide with those of The Sun.

When you disagree so strongly that you feel you must do something, you have several options. You can keep a stockpile of rotten tomatoes ready for throwing, call to offer a piece of your mind, or write a letter to the editor.

I suggest the last. This page is called "Anne Arundel Viewpoints," and is supposed to reflect a wide range of opinions, including those that differ from mine or The Sun's.

Too often, people who disagree -- or agree, for that matter -- with a column prefer to chew the writer's ear in private rather than make their feelings public in a letter.

If you feel you have something worth saying, why not give everyone the benefit of reading it?

You may mail or fax your letters to our Anne Arundel office. The address is 8131 Ritchie Highway, Pasadena, Md., 21122. Our fax number is 410-315-8916. If you really feel you must chew the writer's ear, you can reach me at 410-315-8948.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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