County executive runs into buzz saw Protest, criticism mark Crofton visit

April 09, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

County Executive Robert R. Neall was shadowed by protesters, lectured by the head of the Crofton Civic Association and picketed by residents yesterday.

And that was all before lunch.

Mr. Neall, in Crofton on one of his frequent public relations tours of county communities, first encountered angry volunteer firefighters who followed him around on Engine 72.

"Going out of business sale, courtesy of Robert R. Neall," proclaimed the bright yellow sign hanging from the side of the fire truck. It referred to claims that the executive is trying to undermine the volunteer force by changing the command structure.

Another group of residents stood on Reidel Road and protested Mr. Neall's decision two weeks ago to close a road that they said will force hundreds of cars through their neighborhood.

And then the president of the Crofton Civic Association, Edwin F. Dosek, gave Mr. Neall a public tongue-lashing on spending priorities for new ball fields and a library.

"I get a grilling wherever I go," the county executive said. "That's my job. This is their chance at getting attention."

Louise Hayman, Mr. Neall's press secretary, said the executive had a good time, despite the protests and tongue-lashing. "It takes more than that to ruin his day," she said.

But county officials were not amused by the protesters. One official tipped reporters that Arthur Lee Spencer, who was driving the fire truck, was arrested in December on drunken-driving charges and should not have been at the wheel of a county vehicle.

Mr. Spencer, president of the Arundel Volunteer Fire Company, conceded he was driving a county car at the time of Dec. 11 arrest. But he said he has not received any written notification preventing him from driving county vehicles.

The volunteers were protesting what Mr. Spencer called the continued disintegration of the volunteer force.

"The message we are trying to get to the public is that there will be no volunteer force in two years," Mr. Spencer said. "Then the county will have to budget $80 million to replace us. Are they willing to pay that?"

Meanwhile, Ms. Hayman wondered who was paying for the fuel to run the truck, and fire administrator Paul Haigley called the use of the truck "most inappropriate."

The engine is owned by the volunteers, but is insured by the county, which also pays for gas.

When told the volunteers offered to pay for the gas, Mr. Haigley sniffed, "Ask them for a receipt."

During his tour, Mr. Neall saw new businesses, met with children in a computer lab and participated in an elementary school recycling program.

He looked at 110 acres for new athletic fields. But negotiations are at a standstill. The owners, Bernard Lerch III and his brother, Gary D. Lerch, want $2 million; the county is willing to pay $1 million.

Money for new ball fields is in the budget, but Mr. Neall said it hinged on state funding which may not become available. As for the library, the county executive said he has not yet made up his mind.

"I don't have money to spend on land," Mr. Neall said.

"You've got money coming from the Department of the Interior," said Mr. Dosek, referring to an annual stipend tied to the closing of firing ranges at Fort Meade. "Prince George's County has already gotten some."

Mr. Neall estimated the federal grant at $800,000. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but if we get this $800,000 that is generated, it belongs to all of Anne Arundel County -- not just Crofton," he said.

"It's more than you got now," Mr. Dosek snapped. "I don't know what Severna Park said. I don't care what other communities have to say. Don't forget it's generated in West County."

Ms. Hayman said the exchange did not compromise relations between Crofton and Mr. Neall, which have improved over the past two years.

"I wouldn't call it a run-in," she said. "I think Mr. Dosek was speaking for his organization. He's a very aggressive person."

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