Credit where credit is due for state project OK


July 18, 1999|By Mike Burns

A FUNNY THING happened a week ago when the state broke ground for a new detention center/court/offices building for the Department of Juvenile Justice in Baltimore.

State Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, Carroll County's own, wasn't on the program and wanted to speak at the ceremony. With about a dozen dignitaries already in the speaking lineup, and some pouting politicians squeezed off the roster on that hot, muggy July morning, Mr. Dixon's request caused a little consternation.

When he began to speak, the consternation escalated and the audience looked decidedly uncomfortable. Gov. Parris N. Glendening turned a deeper shade of red that had nothing to do with the rays of a blazing sun.

Mr. Dixon corrected the governor's preceding remarks, in which Mr. Glendening claimed credit for the $41 million facility on five acres behind the main post office in East Baltimore.

It took two votes (out of three) on the state Board of Public Works to approve the project, Mr. Dixon reminded. My vote was the second vote, the one that counts, he continued, so you should be thanking me. (State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer voted against the proposal in May.)

The juvenile justice center project has long been near and dear to my heart, Mr. Dixon added.

Amid so many people scrambling to identify themselves with the costly DJJ building, the treasurer's pointed remarks stood out.

Board power

They weren't just about collective responsibility and the usual political boasting. Mr. Dixon's words were meant to remind people of the power of the Board of Public Works, which is not controlled by the governor.

The treasurer, a former Democratic state delegate from New Windsor, also wanted to emphasize his disagreements with Mr. Glendening on other important state matters.

Such matters as the $53 million statewide police/corrections training center near Sykesville, which lies unfinished because of Mr. Glendening's curious view that it would be better located elsewhere (especially in some jurisdiction that supported him in last year's election).

Mr. Dixon and Mr. Schaefer strongly opposed the governor's decision. They pledged to approve any state funds for the training center only if it was kept at the Sykesville site. The governor replied that he alone had the authority to decide on public spending for an existing project, regardless of how the other board members felt.

Mr. Glendening was adamant in seeking another, more urban site to house the classrooms and administration for the training center.

Meanwhile, the police driving course and the firearms range are completed at Sykesville, but other construction work there has stopped.

When the governor announced his relocation decision in January, he said that a new site would be selected in 90 days. It's now mid-July and the only site mentioned is in Catonsville -- where residents strongly oppose placing the high-traffic complex.

As he has with so many decisions, the governor cloaked the controversial relocation in his sacred mantle of Smart Growth. Sykesville was in a Smart Growth area, but Mr. Glendening wanted a Smarter Growth place to train some 25,000 law enforcement officers. That's a well-known story in Carroll by now.

The question is, how smart is the Smart Growth governor when he abruptly freezes a long-considered state project, with $20 million already spent, and doesn't even have a relocation site in mind?

The governor seems trapped in his own righteous rhetoric, in his Mosaic vision of leading Maryland into the promised land of Smart Growth. But his chimerical concept of Smart Growth usually leads to the kind of politically tainted decision implicit in the police training center issue.

Mr. Dixon may object to an extended interpretation of his words at the DJJ ground-breaking. But it's clear that he and Mr. Glendening have clashed over other issues in recent years. One of them is the need for a state highway bypass for Manchester, a project eschewed by the governor as Unsmart Growth that would lead to development sprawl.

Higher profile

It appears that the state treasurer is seeking a higher public profile, as an official chosen by the state General Assembly and not by the governor. (Mr. Schaefer is, of course, elected by the voters.) Mr. Dixon also seems ready to play to Carroll County's sensitivities in state controversies.

Meanwhile, the furor over the police training center at Sykesville is not going to blow away. Lots of folks are angry with the governor's impetuous decision, not only in Carroll County.

Law enforcement officials have waited for more than a dozen years for the centralized training facility. They want it now, but in a rational, accessible complex, i.e., Sykesville; splitting the facilities is irrational and adds to the cost. Other areas offended by the governor's Smart Growth political whims may join the Sykesville advocates in opposing the governor. Mr. Dixon is not alone.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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