Owens vows schools focus Next executive promises to build 'first-class system'

'An overwhelming win'

Democrat won't get specific about planned changes

November 05, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

With only three hours of sleep after a dizzying victory celebration the night before, Janet S. Owens held a news conference yesterday to announce that building a "first-class educational system" will be among her top priorities as Anne Arundel county executive.

Owens, 54, a former director of services for the elderly in the county, overcame opposition from her fellow Democrats in the primary and a 5-to-1 disadvantage in fund raising Tuesday to beat incumbent Republican John G. Gary.

"The voters said, 'Let's take back our county,' " Owens said to applause at her campaign headquarters on West Street in Annapolis. "I want to thank everyone from the seniors who helped me to the young people to the teachers who said, 'Let's save our schools.' It was an absolutely overwhelming win."

Owens offered no specifics about how she would change the county government, refusing to comment on what appointments she might make or how she will implement her campaign pledges to slow development without stopping it.

"I think the voters have given us a mandate to build a first-class educational system," said Owens, who was backed by the county teachers union. "And I plan to meet with Superintendent [Carol S.] Parham and the Board of Education as soon as possible to begin discussing the issues."

Owens said one of her first steps will be to appoint a financial committee, led by bankers Gilbert Hardesty and Ron McGuirk, to conduct an in-depth study of the county government's financial condition.

She said she finds it suspicious that her opponent kept fishing out additional surplus county money to throw around on the campaign trail. Last week, Gary, who was being hammered on tTC the issue of educational funding, offered the school system an additional $6 million.

Owens said that made her nervous about the county's fiscal condition because Gary had also warned on the campaign trail that the county could face a $20 million shortfall next year.

"I want to reassure everyone that our finances are in good shape," Owens said.

The newly elected county executive, who will be inaugurated in the County Council chambers at 3 p.m. Dec. 7, said she also wants to live up to her campaign promise to eliminate pensions for the county executive and County Council members.

During a planned comprehensive rezoning of the county, Owens said, she hopes to protect more undeveloped land. She plans to spend county money to buy agricultural easements to protect farmland, especially in rural South County.

She said she might try to discourage the Maryland Port Authority from leasing land in Pasadena to build a 54,000-seat auto racetrack. The Gary administration rushed through legislation to allow the track without adequate input from residents, she said.

Owens said she hopes to be supported in her proposals by a County Council that swung from a 4-3 Republican majority to a 5-2 Democratic majority with the defeat of two Gary supporters on the council Tuesday.

Owens said she is assembling a transition team with eight committees to examine the functions of all county government branches.

She reflected on her uphill battle to win the county executive job, braving the opposition of top Democratic elected officials in the primary and a heavily financed Republican opponent.

"It sounds corny, but I really love the county, and I felt was doing the right thing," said Owens, a South County native. "I'm a stubborn country girl."

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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