Wrong process, right outcome Delegation overstepped bounds, but Telemecanique deal was bad.

November 03, 1995

THE FORMER TELEMECANIQUE plant may not become the new headquarters for the Carroll County Board of Education after all. Members of Carroll's State House delegation have thrown a monkey wrench into the county commissioners' plans. Wary of alleged contamination at the site and other unknowns, they have told the commissioners they won't introduce the legislation the county needs to issue bonds to finance the purchase.

The senators and delegates have a long list of concerns. Among them, they are unhappy the headquarters wouldn't be in the county seat of Westminster. They also wonder about problems with ground water at the site and if the county is paying too much.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell is upset that the delegation would insert itself in a local matter. "I don't think it's their place to run the county," he said. And he's right. The day-to-day management of the county should be the commissioners' responsibility. Among those duties are selecting sites for county buildings and negotiating the purchase of land or buildings.

While there has never been a clear delineation between the responsibilities of state legislators and the commissioners, there has been little open conflict between the two groups on major policy issues to date. Unfortunately, the commissioners' poor handling of this purchase practically forced the delegation's hand.

In the two years they have eyed the former Telemecanique plant, where electronic controls for machinery were produced until a few years ago, the commissioners have yet to make a compelling case for locating school headquarters there. They never did a systematic study of other possible locations, or weighed the costs and benefits of alternatives to Telemecanique.

The commissioners compounded the problem by failing to obtain an independent appraisal of the property and agreeing to purchase it despite a known problem with ground-water contamination. Instead of appearing as though they are looking out for the taxpayers' interests, the commissioners created the impression they were protecting the property owner. They are correct in decrying intrusion by the county's legislative delegation on principle, but on practical grounds, they'll win no support for their flawed handling of this case.

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