Council members threaten to cancel funding for signs Public works official accused of misleading panel about U.S. rule

October 04, 1995|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Council members said yesterday that they were misled by a public works administrator and are threatening to reverse their decision to spend $200,000 to replace thousands of street signs. The councild ordered the changes.

Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for County Executive John G. Gary, disputed his testimony almost immediately. Although she did not testify, Ms. Ritter told a reporter that the federal government is only considering rule changes that could require that larger traffic signs be made with a more reflective paint.

"He's wrong," she said referring to Mr. Loomis.

Council members, who learned of the situation yesterday, said they may withdraw the appropriation at their Oct. 16 meeting.

"If it's not a mandate, then a department head lied to us," said Councilman Thomas Redmond, a Pasadena Democrat.

"If it's not a mandate, I think we're going to stop the whole program."

Councilman John Klocko, a Crofton Republican, agreed: "If there is substantial evidence this is not mandated federally, I will call for reconsideration. That was the primary motivating factor."

Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Ritter apologized for the administration. "If Mr. Loomis, in some way, was not clear and accurate with the council, I apologize," she said. "That was not his intention."

Mr. Loomis said, "There certainly wasn't anything sinister that we were trying to pull on the council."

A public works administrator who is a member of a national highway safety review board alerted the county about pending changes in traffic sign standards, but county officials do not know whether the changes will be mandatory, Ms. Ritter said.

The county sought, and received, $691,200 from the state Department of Transportation in anticipation of the new rules, she said. The grant is expected to enable the county to replace about 10,000 of its 65,000 signs. The $200,000 appropriation for fiscal 1996 is the first installment of that grant, she said.

Mr. Loomis estimated that replacing 30,000 signs during the next five years would cost $1.8 million.

Councilman William Mulford, an Annapolis Republican who cast the sole vote against the appropriation, said replacing the signs is "patently absurd."

"I don't see what's wrong with the majority of our signs now or why we have to spend $1.8 million of taxpayer money -- whether its county taxpayers or federal taxpayers -- for something that's not necessary," he said.

In other business Monday, the council unanimously approved:

* A bill, sponsored by Mr. Klocko, that would steer cellular telephone and communications towers into commercial and industrial zones and away from residential neighborhoods.

Telephone companies also would be encouraged to locate their transmitters on existing towers and bridges or on property owned by the local government or volunteer fire departments.

* Legislation allowing civic and veterans groups, churches and other charities to hold annual casino night fund-raisers. The law creates a license allowing groups to use three games of chance -- blackjack, a five-card showdown poker and an "over-and-under" dice game.

Licenses already are required for chance wheels and bingo.

* The Odenton Town Plan, a document intended to be the glue that binds the old railroad town, Fort Meade and two new planned villages with about 8,000 homes as a single place.

It covers about 1,600 acres near the junction of routes 32 and 175 and relies on homeowners and business owners to carry out most of the changes, including road improvements, addition of sidewalks and construction of more attractive facades, officials said.

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