John Gary's change of heart County executive, who can read election results, makes amends with school system.

September 21, 1998

JOHN G. GARY gave new meaning to The Sun's Reading by 9 program. After reading election results by 9 p.m. last Tuesday, the Anne Arundel County executive realized he'd better improve his relations with the school system -- and fast.

How else to explain the mercurial county executive's move last week to patch up his relations with school Superintendent Carol S. Parham and the Board of Education. While Mr. Gary ran unopposed in the Republican Party primary Tuesday, the Democratic primary saw two-term county councilwoman Diane R. Evans defeated by Janet S. Owens, a lesser-known former county official who was heavily supported by teachers.

Mr. Gary for months has sought to convince the public that Dr. Parham and the school board were fiscally irresponsible. The executive unwisely personalized the dispute by saying that Dr. Parham supported a large increase in the budget as payback to the board for renewing her contract. He sought a state audit of the school budget.

But his pressuring of the system backfired. Voters' eyes glazed over at the intricacies of whether insurance reserves had been raided or whether money had been diverted from one account to another. Rather, the public was annoyed that the solutions to the budget crunch threatened popular programs such as gifted and talented education -- and directed their ire publicly at Mr. Gary.

Mr. Gary's antagonism also mobilized teachers, who ironically are often at odds with the school administration over pay and working conditions. Educators demonstrated their political influence Tuesday when they helped Ms. Owens squeak by Ms. Evans.

Sensing potential political damage, Mr. Gary dropped his hostile stance, apologized and agreed to transfer $17 million to the same school board that he had accused weeks earlier of squandering money. Funny how the board became fiscally adept so quickly.

Pub Date: 9/21/98

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