Recreation revenue bill dies quietly Gary's controversial plan falls victim to clerical error

Advertising deadline missed

Measure meant to raise money for golf, skating swimming facilities

February 06, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

After inspiring months of wrangling and rhetoric, County Executive John G. Gary's plan to create an independent agency to raise money for public golf courses, ice rinks and swimming pools died a quiet death.

The measure, which would have established Anne Arundel's first Recreational Revenue Authority, will not appear on the County Council's Feb. 18 agenda because of bureaucratic snafu: A public meeting on the bill was not advertised according to law. As a result, legislation that Gary cast as a significant initiative will automatically expire.

Gary, a Republican, has seen important administration legislation expire before. His first try at pension reform died last year, but he immediately introduced an amended bill that won unanimous council approval.

This time, a frustrated Gary has not decided whether to resuscitate his revenue authority bill.

For the past three months it has been battered by private golf course owners and local chambers of commerce. Other business groups and golfers clamoring for a second, inexpensive county-run course did endorse it, but council members came up with 17 changes to the bill.

"This will give the county executive a chance to cogitate on the amendments that have already passed," said Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokesman. "He hasn't made up his mind what to do."

By law, the council has 95 days to act on legislation, or it expires. In addition, law requires that a bill be advertised in a local newspaper for 14 days prior to a public hearing.

But an ad for the revenue authority bill, introduced last November, did not appear in Tuesday's Capital newspaper, making it illegal for the council to consider the measure Feb. 18. The council's next meeting, scheduled for March 3, would arrive after the legislation's expiration date.

"I don't blame him [Gary] for being angry," said Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, who initiated eight of the amendments. "I would expect him to reintroduce it, but that's his call."

The legislation would create a nine-member board with the power to issue bonds, raise money from the private sector and operate almost entirely outside county government. Members would be appointed by Gary, confirmed by the council and paid $5,000 a year.

Designed to pay for renovations at Eisenhower Golf Course, the authority also would raise money for a second county-run course on Fort Smallwood Road and for a public swimming pool in North County. Gary has discussed both ideas, but has found little extra money to carry them out.

But a clerical error, either by the council staff or the newspaper, may have doomed those plans.

On Monday, council members passed two amendments to the bill. Anticipating the changes, the council's administrative officer, Judy C. Holmes, reserved advertising space for the next day's paper -- exactly 14 days before the deadline. Evans said Holmes faxed the amended bill to the Capital by 9 p.m., although the council didn't actually vote on the changes until an hour later.

"As chairman I told my colleagues that the space had been reserved," Evans said. "Then things fell apart. Judy told me Tuesday the ad was not in the Capital, and you can imagine what has happened since then."

Gary, who endorsed privatizing certain government services during his 1994 campaign, was expected to get his first chance to do so with this legislation.

"I have had every indication that the bill, as amended, would pass," Evans said. "I predicted a very strong vote for it."

Gary will decide in coming weeks whether to reintroduce the bill. Ritter said the matter is not as pressing as the administration's hard-fought fiscal reform last year.

"This isn't like the pension bill where taxpayers' money was at stake," she said.

Said Evans: "It is most unfortunate that this has happened."

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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