Family Ties and Lost Funds

September 21, 1994

The removal of Lawrence A. Snoops as a plumbing subcontractor on Howard County's $30.8 million state-of-the-art River Hill High School project raises serious questions about possible impropriety. Beyond the usual concern about nepotism -- Mr. Snoops is the son of Hilda Mae Snoops, longtime friend of Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- there is also the question of why the state took back $2 million in construction funds already promised to the project.

In all, the Howard school system incurred a $4 million cost overrun at River Hill, which the County Council covered this week by approving a budget transfer. Needless to say, the money ultimately comes out of taxpayers' pockets.

Where things went wrong in the River Hill project is difficult to pin down. County Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said that Mr. Snoops' firm, Collins-Snoops, has had problems on other Howard projects in the past, but never of the severity experienced at River Hill. Mr. Snoops won the contract because his firm is bonded and submitted the lowest bid.

When it became clear that Collins-Snoops was not performing on the project, Dr. Cousin concedes that school officials handled his dismissal gingerly, but not because of Mr. Snoops' extended relationship with the governor. Rather, officials were concerned that Mr. Snoops might sue and tie up construction. As it was, no suit materialized and the River Hill school recently opened, a year ahead of schedule.

The state's decision to take back $2 million in already promised funds is troubling because of its timing. Normally, school officials are informed early when specific costs fail to meet criteria for funding; in this case, the state declined to pay for certain built-in equipment. But the state informed school officials that they were taking back some of the River Hill money only a month ago, after Mr. Snoops had been removed from the project.

School officials were told late in the process that the $2 million was being withdrawn because the state didn't have complete drawings early on, state officials say. County officials say that isn't so. No one, however, is publicly claiming a direct link between Mr. Snoops' dismissal and the state's take-back.

Nonetheless, the fear of retribution hangs over Howard school officials, who have apparently done nothing out of line here. It is the actions of state officials that remain suspect in this matter.

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