Anne Arundel voters give Gary more flexibility County executive gets expanded power to spend

November 07, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel voters have decided to give County Executive John G. Gary more flexibility to spend county money -- but not too much more.

In surprisingly low numbers for a presidential election year, county voters went to polling places Tuesday and approved five of six proposed changes to Anne Arundel County's 31-year-old charter.

But the one they rejected -- an amendment that would have more than doubled the minimum dollar value of contracts that must be bid publicly -- suggests county voters may be leery of Gary, who has been criticized in recent weeks for awarding public work to friends and political colleagues without competitive bidding or written agreements.

"The current climate had something to do with it," said Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman. "It's probably an inopportune time for the government to ask for additional latitude in extending the bidding ceiling."

She added: "That is unfortunate because often we spend a fair amount of taxpayer dollars in dotting Is and crossing Ts. Sometimes things can be done more efficiently and expeditiously with a more businesslike method."

The approved changes, all endorsed by the Gary administration, will give the County Council more control over the Board of Appeals, which handles zoning issues, allow temporary employees to work more hours without them having to get health benefits, loosen restrictions on the way county finance officials can spend bond money, and permit the executive to reorganize what he has described as a hidebound bureaucracy.

Only 68 percent of Anne Arundel's 242,834 registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election. "It's much lower than we are accustomed to in a presidential year," said Nancy Crawford, a county elections supervisor. "We're used to being in the 80 percent range."

Election officials said yesterday they had 7,500 absentee ballots still to count, as well as more than 300 ballots from a South County precinct that were incorrectly tallied Tuesday. The results for Questions A, B and F could change with the absentee ballot results.

What follows is a summary of the unofficial results:

Question A: Passed with 52 percent of the vote, the amendment will give the County Council more power to change the authority of the Board of Appeals, an appointed panel that has the final say on zoning matters.

Question B: Defeated by 52 percent of county voters, the amendment would have allowed purchasing officials to advertise county work worth more than $25,000. The county must now bid all work that exceeds $10,000.

Question C: Approved by 62 percent of voters, the amendment will allow Gary and his successors to dissolve Anne Arundel's "core group" organization.

Question D: Approved by 69 percent of voters, the largest margin of any of the amendments, the change will give county finance officials more flexibility to spend money raised through bonds for construction projects.

Previously the county had two years to spend bond money on designated projects. Now county finance officials will be allowed to spend the money on projects in the same "class" if delays arise.

For example, money raised for a road project could be spent on another road project. But money raised for school construction could not be shifted to repave a road.

Questions E and F: Question E was approved by 59 percent of county voters and will allow Anne Arundel to employ temporary workers for as many as 1,500 hours in a calendar year without having to pay benefits. Before, the county would have had to pay benefits for employees who worked more than 1,250 hours in a year.

Question F was approved by the narrowest margin -- 996 votes. It makes the same change as Question E, but also allows the council to add so-called exempt positions to the work force that do not require benefits. Those additions can only come at the recommendation of the county executive.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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