Office Politics

January 06, 1995

Considering the intensity of the outrage in some quarters of Carroll County over the renovation of W. Benjamin Brown's office, one would think the new commissioner is outfitting it with a sauna, wet bar and big-screen TV. The reality is that Mr. Brown's work space is getting a long overdue upgrading that should also be done to the offices of the county's other two commissioners as well.

Other than an occasional coat of paint slapped on the walls -- the former occupant of Mr. Brown's office selected peach, of all things -- nothing much has been done to these offices since the County Office Building was constructed nearly 25 years ago. The partitions are outdated, and the electrical and lighting systems inadequate.

The metal partitions that separated individual offices may have been state-of-the-art when the building was designed, but they are long out of favor from the perspectives of both appearance and use. With unsightly seams giving the walls a corrugated look, the offices seem as though they belong in a trucking warehouse, not in the place where Carroll's highest elected officials conduct business. Moreover, these thin partitions leak noise from oneoffice to another. The commissioners find it difficult to talk on the phone or have confidential conversations. Sounds from the outer office carry into the commissioners' private offices. In addition, the number of electrical outlets is inadequate for the amount of equipment now considered standard for an executive office.

More than anything, the furor over $6,000 worth of renovations in a $143 million budget reveals the low standing of elected officials everywhere. Instances of government officials decorating their offices with lavish furnishings and riding around in limousines have poisoned perceptions to the point where citizens are skeptical about all public spending regardless of merit.

Perhaps if Ben Brown had donned frayed overalls and began the painting and hammering himself, he would have scored some political points. But anyone who thinks the work should have been accomplished that way has a romanticized and unrealistic view of a government that serves 130,000-plus people. This wasn't some $200 haircut; it was necessary maintenance. Mr. Brown should not be burdened with an undeserved image as a self-indulgent public official.

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