Making 'plain vanilla' less bitter

June 29, 1993

Fireworks displays and parties for retiring workers may not rank at the top of the list of essential government services. They're little extras -- the kind of nice-to-do but unnecessary perks that Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall says have no place in a "plain vanilla government."

Maybe not. Still, these little things mean a lot to the people affected by them.

If the county can't afford them any more, fine. But is there any reason why officials can't show sensitivity and common sense when they cancel a community event, party or some other "frill"?

Surely Anne Arundel County school officials should have realized that staging a farewell reception honoring Fort Meade commander Col. Kent Menser, two months after they said they couldn't afford a modest party for their own retiring workers, was a bad idea. To make matters worse, the Menser reception was held just before the school board meeting in which employees were denied pay raises for a third straight year.

Colonel Menser's contributions to Meade schools are not the issue here. Neither is the paltry amount of money his reception cost. The point is, the workers felt as though they'd been dealt a slap in the face.

This is the kind of aggravating factor that school officials should have the sense to avoid when they are faced with unions already angry and threatening job actions. If they wanted to have a little party for Colonel Menser, they should have also coughed up a couple hundred dollars toward the retirement party the unions eventually threw.

If they couldn't, they should have honored the colonel some other way -- perhaps with a plaque or a proclamation.

As far as the Downs Park Fourth of July fireworks show is concerned, the Neall administration should have thought enough of the residents who look forward to the event every year to tell them it was being canceled. The biggest complaint from community leaders was that they didn't know about the cancellation in time to try to raise the $45,000 to $50,000 for the show through the private sector.

Sure, the cuts were included in the budget Mr. Neall released May 1, but how many ordinary people pore over that massive document looking for their favorite community event?

Plain vanilla government would go down easier if it were sweetened with a little more consideration for the public.

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