3 council members criticized on fire vote

August 03, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

The chairman of a citizens committee that studied Anne Arundel's dual fire service has blasted County Council members who refused to let voters decide whether the fire administrator should have more control over volunteers.

The council resolution, which would have put the question on the November ballot, was defeated on a tie vote, 3-3, despite 11th-hour concessions by the Neall administration. It needed five votes to pass.

"I think you had three council members who lacked the moral courage to do the right thing," said Raymond F. Turner, chairman of the Fire Department Study Commission.

The charter amendment would have codified some of the 40 recommendations made by the study committee. The measure cannot be revived for at least two years.

Mr. Turner was vehement in his criticism of David G. Boschert, Virginia P. Clagett and C. Edward Middlebrooks.

"What's really sad is we have three people on the council, Clagett, Boschert and Middlebrooks, who don't think the citizens Anne Arundel County have the capability of making an intelligent choice on a crucial and complex issue such as this," Mr. Turner said. "The citizens should remember this on election day. I know I will."

In an attempt to save the measure, representatives of County Executive Robert R. Neall offered to eliminate passages offensive to volunteers and gave the council the power to define the administrator's authority by ordinance.

But Mr. Turner said "special interest politics," namely the political power of the volunteer fire companies, doomed the resolution. Both Ms. Clagett and Mr. Boschert have active volunteer fire companies in their districts -- the Deale company in Ms. Clagett's South County area and Odenton in Mr. Boschert's West County district.

Both are running for seats in the House of Delegates.

George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat who had voted in favor of the first charter amendment on July 5, was in the hospital Monday night awaiting surgery. That amendment was essentially the same as the most recent and was defeated, 4 to 3.

Council members said they understood Mr. Turner's frustration but defended their votes.

Mr. Boschert noted that several community association representatives, including the Greater Odenton Improvement Association and the Downs Property Owners Association in his district, testified at Monday night's public hearing against the resolution.

"I think I did exactly what my citizens wanted me to do," Mr. Boschert said. "He can lambaste me politically all he wants to, but my responsibility is to the people who elected me to office, and they were there last night."

Mr. Middlebrooks said he was not prepared to vote for a resolution to put an amended charter amendment on the ballot.

"I think their position would have been much stronger if they stuck to the original bill," Mr. Middlebrooks said. "I can understand wanting to get something on the ballot, but at the same time I'm not going to put through something as important as a charter amendment on the ballot with 11th-hour changes that I haven't had the opportunity to digest yet."

Ms. Clagett said after the vote that putting the dispute between the volunteers and the Fire Department administration on the ballot would only worsen the situation.

"I believe that putting this on the ballot would provide even more division than we've seen over the past four years and I don't think we need that," Ms. Clagett said.

The proposed amendment would have given the fire administrator command and control over the personnel, equipment and resources of the volunteer fire companies "both during and outside emergencies," which would include activities inside their fire houses.

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