Public service and politics can mix

November 09, 1993

Something is really screwy when candidates for elected public service are told they can't serve their communities because it's a conflict of interest. That is what some people -- including the Anne Arundel County Board of Education -- are telling Carolyn Roeding, president of the County Council of PTAs and a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 31.

Mrs. Roeding was a vocal PTA leader long before she became a candidate. But she has been especially visible since the Ronald Walter Price sex scandal plunged the county's school system into turmoil.

Recently, she made headlines for pressing the board to release details of an outside investigation of that scandal. Board members, meanwhile, have accused her of using her position to advance her own political agenda. They say she ought either to quit the PTA post or to take herself out of the House race.

There is no reason why Mrs. Roeding shouldn't be able to do both, unless she has abused her post by straying from the PTA's agenda. She has not. Mrs. Roeding has become an issue simply because she has made school board members uncomfortable by challenging them, so they have latched onto her candidacy as a tool for discrediting her.

If she knuckles under, she sets a terrible precedent. What happens to the president and vice president of the Greater Pasadena Council, for example, who are on a District 31 Republican slate? Should they resign because someone might suspect ulterior motives every time they fight for a traffic signal? What about school board members, who are logical candidates for elected office?

For that matter, what about elected officials seeking higher office? Should Republican Del. John Gary, who wants to be county executive, be pressured to quit his state post? After all, he might introduce a popular piece of legislation during the 1994 session.

We want elected leaders who are experienced, hard-working and committed to the public good. The best way to get them is to elect candidates who manifest those qualities; often the best place to find them is within such organizations as the PTA. Mrs. Roeding is doing her job as a spokeswoman for parents and children, and doing it well. That is what matters.

The public only spites itself if it forces people like her to choose one form of service over the other.

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