$100,000 down the drain? County government's hiring of D.C. firm to pursue grants was not a waste.

March 30, 1998

FOR AT LEAST a decade, all levels of government have been admonished to act more like businesses. Some of the very people who would tout this trend, however, don't seem to realize its meaning.

When Anne Arundel County government last year retained Waterman & Associates, a Washington consulting firm, to secure federal grants, it took a risk.

Ultimately, the investment didn't generate the expected return -- a phenomenon not uncommon in the private sector.

Few in government circles disagreed that the county's previous approach to securing federal grants had been "hit or miss." Hiring the Waterman firm for $100,000 was an effort to bring order to the process. The firm apparently opened doors and produced some consulting advice, as expected.

Did the firm provide value for its fee? County Councilwoman Diane R. Evans believes not. Much of the information the county received was publicly available on the Internet or from local congressional offices, she said.

Ms. Evans would have an argument if a list of grants was the only service provided, but Waterman also opened some doors and provided guidance in writing proposals -- none of which panned out.

When the county signed the contract, it was done with the best of intentions. No one raised red flags then. The firm appeared to be competent and capable of delivering on its promises.

Retrospective carping that Waterman failed the county is merely Monday-morning quarterbacking.

Like most astute investors, the county has learned from its losses.

The Gary administration seems to know more about federal grants now; it should take advantage of the free resources it failed to use in the past.

County Executive John G. Gary might also consider designating a county employee or group to coordinate grant proposals or review those that are written. As in business, the trick is to learn from those investments that don't pan out.

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Smarter smart growth

Carroll County: State planning opinion on reuse of Warfield complex is confusing.

SOME CONFUSION over Maryland's Smart Growth policy was inevitable, but a decision in Sykesville that might limit future reuse of land at Springfield Hospital Center seems an egregious case of bureaucratic blinder-vision.

The state planning office says the Warfield complex at Springfield, on the border of Carroll and Howard counties, is not a Smart Growth area.

It says this about land where, for years, the state operated a residential mental hospital.

It says this about land recently turned over by the state to the town of Sykesville specifically for the purpose of development.

Is the state now saying it did not have adequate water and sewer facilities to care for the patients at the hospital? Is it saying that locating a Maryland State Police crime lab next to a state police training center, also on former Springfield grounds, was not "smart?"

The issue arose when Sykesville proposed the Warfield location as a site for a crime lab, replacing the old facility in Pikesville in Baltimore County. The Maryland Office of Planning issued a letter stating that the idea would conflict with Smart Growth objectives.

Two of three members of the state Board of Public Works, which authorized the transfer of Warfield land to Sykesville, disagree with the planning office.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who received national recognition for his Smart Growth policy last year, is the third member of the board. He cited Warfield as a good example of his initiative last year.

But Ronald Young, deputy director of the planning office, said the governor's executive order rules out use of the Warfield land for the laboratory and favors rebuilding the facility in Pikesville (which would also satisfy Smart Growth).

This mixed message feeds confusion about Smart Growth, especially outside the Baltimore and Washington beltways. That's a shame because the program deserves broad support as a sensible approach to curbing sprawl.

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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