Capital offense

Anne Arundel: Gary's desperate purchase ignored budget review, leaves county holding the bag.

May 04, 1999

THE CAPITAL budget process gives the public and decision-makers an opportunity to discuss the wisdom of building roads, schools and other facilities before elected officials invest in them.

Anne Arundel County's capital budget for the current fiscal year, proposed by former County Executive John G. Gary and approved by the County Council last year, contains $200.7 million for projects. But nowhere in the 652-page document is a provision for a police substation in Maryland City.

Mr. Gary bought the land for one and announced it on the eve of his unsuccessful re-election bid last fall, after the budget process ended. That, obviously, is no way to plan public improvements.

He used $1 million from Anne Arundel's land acquisition fund to buy 7 acres for the substation. No public hearings were held, the County Council took no action. Critics accuse the former executive of trying to help an ally, developer Nicholas Andrew, who owned the land.

There is no evidence that the Republican Mr. Gary was repaying a political favor, but he clearly circumvented the capital budget process on behalf of the project. His successor, Democratic County Executive Janet S. Owens, has other priorities and does not intend to use the land for a substation, which the police themselves say is unnecessary. One option, to use the property for recreation, is not ideal. Among various concerns, it could cost $100,000 to clean up an environmental hazard there.

It makes little sense for the county to "bank" the property with no plan for its future use. Selling it may be the best of poor options. Politicians finalizing last-minute deals in the hope of winning an election or securing a legacy are, unfortunately, too common. Mr. Gary, even if he thought he was helping a small, sometimes overlooked community on the Anne Arundel-Howard border, should not have ignored the budget process.

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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