Library need sole motivation for Odenton land deal

LETTERS

June 27, 1999

The Odenton Town Plan Oversight Committee was formed in January 1996 by the Anne Arundel County executive.

The committee is made up of 11 members representing both business and citizen interests, all appointed by the executive.

Recent Sun coverage about the county's purchase of land for the future West County Regional Library in Odenton has portrayed the purchase as a paycheck to Jay Winer for his support of then-County Executive John G. Gary in the November 1998 election. In the opinion of members of the Odenton Town Plan Oversight Committee, that portrayal is not true.

Members of the Oversight Committee want to set the record straight by sharing some publicly recorded facts.

At the first meeting of the committee in January 1996, the minutes reflect that members developed a list of goals and tasks. At that meeting, the need for a regional library to replace the small, inadequate Odenton branch library was listed along with many needs.

It has remained a "hot issue." The meetings have always been open to the public and, the minutes also reflect the concern, frustration and effort to acquire a regional library in Odenton.

Throughout 1996, there was much discussion by Crofton and Odenton residents concerning the appropriate location for a regional library.

Articles in both the Annapolis Capital and The Sun followed and reported on the issue, but also covered the potential solution by Mr. Gary.

An editorial in the The Sun on Jan. 10, 1997 ("John Gary's two-volume set"), hailed the solution as making sense. It went on to say "the county would build a 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot facility in Crofton in fiscal year 1998. During the following fiscal year, a 40,000-square-foot library would open in what is now a bowling alley in Odenton." The editorial explained the virtues of libraries for use by both children and adults, and that they would improve "the quality-of-life and the sense of community in western Anne Arundel." We agree.

This plan was recommended by the library administrator and board of trustees of the Anne Arundel County Public Library to the county executive for inclusion in the fiscal year 1998 budget. In general, members of the Oversight Committee endorsed the concept of the regional library to the executive for inclusion in the fiscal year 1998 budget.

However, just as the final draft of the budget was being completed, Mr. Gary informed all parties that while he still endorsed the plan, the budget for fiscal year 1998 would not support the operational cost of the West County regional library in the skating rink (old bowling alley) in Odenton. Members of the Oversight Committee were disappointed, but immediately pursued potential alternative locations in the area.

With the help of the county administration, the committee, the library board and the councilman representing Councilmanic District 4, an alternate plan was developed.

Planning included locating a parcel of land in the area that would best meet the needs of the growing population.

Several parcels were considered. One that met the Anne Arundel County Library site selection criteria was located at the southwest corner of the intersection of routes 175 and 170. Thus, committee members strongly recommended that the county purchase the property for the West County Regional Library even though they were aware that Mr. Winer's company had the property listed for sale.

During the fiscal year 1999 budget deliberations in May 1998, the County Council approved funding for land acquisitions which included purchasing property for the regional library. Funding was allocated to provide for construction of the building in fiscal years 2002 to 2004. Coincidentally, the property was purchased during an election year.

The facts are:

Proper planning dictates Odenton needs a regional library.

The property meets all of the Anne Arundel County library site selection criteria.

The chosen location is within the Odenton Town Plan area, one of the county's Smart Growth areas.

While Mr. Winer benefited monetarily for listing and selling the property, he has worked in Odenton all his life. He has donated thousands of volunteer hours to community service.

Mr. Winer is not at fault. He did everything the Oversight Committee members feel he should have and more. Yet he is being professionally and personally victimized.

Mr. Winer is honest, dedicated and trustworthy. At a time when every organization needs strong, dedicated leaders, there seems to be a rush to judgment and criticism.

Why would anyone, especially owners, ever want to volunteer their time and effort to community service? We should be thankful for their efforts.

Therefore, with united support and encouragement, the members of the Oversight Committee ask that Mr. Winer continue serving as chairman. We on the committee fully support him and want to thank him publicly for helping us acquire the land for a regional library to meet the needs of the rapidly increasing population area.

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