Szczybor falls short on facts

October 09, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

What would you, candidate Ron Szczybor, do to improve public schools in Harford County?

Buy more fax machines, the Republican challenger for county executive said, quite seriously, at a debate Wednesday against incumbent Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann.

"Two-thirds of our schools don't have fax machines," Mr. Szczybor told a capacity crowd in the County Council chambers Bel Air.

Students would have little use for fax machines, he acknowledged in an interview later. But he said parents could use them to reach teachers in emergencies.

Mr. Szczybor's attention to fax machines was surprising to most anyone who heard it during the hourlong debate. Unless you were aware that he got in a bit of hot water in May for trying to fax political material to county schools.

Or unless you were Mrs. Rehrmann, who says the alleged fax machine shortage was just one of Mr. Szczybor's blunders.

Still, Mr. Szczybor emerged from the debate saying he was unscathed, and he had succeeded in portraying Mrs. Rehrmann as "desperate" for her recent attacks on his record as a financial expert.

But without question, Mr. Szczybor made several factual errors in his statements or in answering questions posed by a League of Women Voters moderator. Among them:

* On the suspicious death of county jail inmate William Ford in 1992, Mr. Szczybor said Mrs. Rehrmann publicly called the death a "murder." In fact, there is no evidence she did, and Mr. Szczybor could only produce a headline in The Aegis in which the newspaper used the word, or an Aegis reporter's use of the word in an article.

* Mr. Szczybor said Mrs. Rehrmann erred by paying $400,000 to the Ford family to settle a threatened federal civil rights lawsuit because a county grand jury eventually found jail guards to be "innocent" in the inmate's death.

The grand jury, in a controversial report earlier this year, found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in Mr. Ford's death and ruled that the inmate killed himself. Regardless of how Mr. Ford died, the settlement was based on the failure of the jail management to follow its own written procedures in supervising the inmate before his death, on the management's failure to investigate policy infractions and on the admitted destruction of evidence related to the death.

* Mr. Szczybor said Mrs. Rehrmann's policies have brought on costly litigation. He said, for example, that the county faces $1 billion in liability for "illegal" fees charged to developers to improve roads.

In fact, the fees at issue stem from regulations adopted as early as 1977, more than a decade before Mrs. Rehrmann took office. And, although the state Court of Special Appeals had ruled earlier that the fee was illegal, the Maryland Court of Appeals recently vacated that ruling.

* Mr. Szczybor repeatedly identified himself with what he called the fiscally conservative policies of Democrat Habern W. Freeman Jr., a state senator who was county executive before Mrs. Rehrmann. Mr. Szczybor said Mr. Freeman had never raised taxes while he was county executive.

In fact, Mr. Freeman proposed a 19-cent property tax rate increase in the fiscal 1984 budget, which was later cut to 18 cents by the County Council.

Clearly, Mrs. Rehrmann, a 49-year-old former state legislator, has decided to go on the offensive in the weeks before the Nov. 8 general election. But the Rehrmann campaign, with far greater financing and an apparently superior volunteer organization, is gloating that Mr. Szczybor did not help himself in the debate.

"I'm still waiting for his plan on anything," Mrs. Rehrmann said after the debate.

Mr. Szczybor, a 37-year-old former stockbroker making his first run for elected office, is trying to portray himself as a nonpartisan candidate who is not indebted to any special interest. "I am the people's candidate," he said during the debate. "Eileen is the queen of the developers."

He said repeatedly Wednesday night that Mrs. Rehrmann has maintained excessive budget surpluses when she could be spending that money on education and other needs. At the same time, he criticized her for levying too many taxes and fees and having a bloated administration staff.

Mr. Szczybor said Mrs. Rehrmann is beholden to developers and homebuilders who have supported her campaign. She responded that she has stemmed rampant growth through her adequate public facilities legislation, which requires that building does not exceed the capacity of county services, and through the preservation of farmland.

And, while Mr. Szczybor said the Democrat has lost the support of the county teachers' union, Mrs. Rehrmann responded that she helped build four new schools, worked to repair others and increased the overall education funding.

Mrs. Rehrmann maintained that she has had to make tough choices to weather repeated cuts in state aid to local governments.

She said the tax-cut proposal offered by the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, will only mean the loss of millions more in state aid.

Mr. Szczybor, who supports the tax-cut proposal, said he does ** not think Mrs. Sauerbrey would cut state aid further if elected.

As expected, Mr. Szczybor urged voters not to approve the creation of a county police department as Harford's primary law enforcement agency. He called the proposed department an unnecessary "bureaucracy."

Mrs. Rehrmann pushed for the question to be put on the ballot in response to what she called the overly political nature of the sheriff's office, which she said makes it less effective.

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