Owens' symbolic first strike New executive: Her call to end pensions for executive, council in Anne Arundel done mostly for image.

December 08, 1998

SYMBOLISM PLAYS a role in public office, and Janet S. Owens used it to her advantage at her inauguration as Anne Arundel County executive. She plans to run a "people's" administration that is open and responsive to the public.

In the past, the executive's swearing-in ceremony was private. Like former President Jimmy Carter and first lady, Rosalynn, who walked rather than rode in the inauguration parade, Ms. Owens held a public ceremony in nonmagisterial surroundings. Ms. Owens took the oath in the Anne Arundel Community College gymnasium. The audience of 700 sat in folding chairs. A reception was held in a school cafeteria.

In her inaugural address, Ms. Owens used her family's deep roots in the bay-side county to symbolize her profound sense of stewardship. Just as her ancestors 350 years ago found a rich, productive soil that allowed them to survive and prosper, Ms. Owens seeks to "protect the land" so that the county's current and future residents will reap the same benefits. She also said that she wants to set high standards of behavior. Ms. Owens hopes to reduce citizen hostility and alienation toward government. With that in mind, she seeks to eliminate pensions for the county executive and council.

Given the political controversy over pension schemes in some past administrations, her promise is laden with symbolism. Unfortunately, the effort seems not worth the cost. Of approximately $15.6 million the county contributed for pensions last year, the elected officials' cost was one-tenth of 1 percent, about $15,000. Moreover, no retired council members are receiving pension windfalls. Under the current structure, a retired council member will collect about $1,100 annually for four years of service and about $2,210 for eight years of service. Elimination of elected officials' pensions may help Ms. Owens' politically, but doesn't do much for the budget.

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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