Straight shooter

Anne Arundel: Whether you agree with her or not, credit Owens for quick decision making.

April 20, 1999

AFTER FIVE MONTHS as Anne Arundel County executive, Janet S. Owens' decision-making style seems to resemble Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's, the former governor and mayor known for his "do it now" urgency.

Ms. Owens last winter torpedoed plans to build a 61,000-seat auto racing course in Pasadena on a site she thought was inappropriate, in spite of a lot of vocal support for the project.

She didn't hesitate to pull the plug on a volunteer road cleanup program after the Ku Klux Klan tried to join it last month, fearing the racist group would detract from a worthy effort.

Most recently, she promoted her acting police chief, P. Thomas Shanahan, in the face of sharp criticism from the rank and file. County officers who claimed Mr. Shanahan mistreated them during contract talks protested by refusing to issue traffic citations, writing up warnings to motorists instead. Mr. Shanahan retorted with an unwise remark that insulted officers and union members, advising officers "not to behave like Teamsters or you will be treated like Teamsters." But Ms. Owens was not deterred: She stood by her interim chief and appointed him to the job permanently.

Whether or not one always agrees with her -- and we didn't on the racetrack -- her clear-cut direction to county employees and citizens who rely on her judgment is admirable.

Ms. Owens needs to ensure, however, that her tendency to make decisions firm and fast does not come at the expense of proper research. That seemed to be the case early in his tenure when she quickly demoted her chief of staff even though a perceived conflict of interest seemed contrived.

The executive's quick action is most effective when it follows full exploration of the issues.

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