Snowden's night job isn't county business


March 12, 2000|By NORRIS WEST

CARL Snowden gained a lot of notice -- some would say notoriety -- for his activism in Annapolis public life.

As a community activist, alderman and mayoral candidate, he stirred the pot and stirred people.

Mr. Snowden isn't an alderman anymore. He works for County Executive Janet S. Owens in a statesmanlike position called liaison for intergovernmental relations.

He has had that job for a year, since the beginning of the Owens administration. His job requires him to smooth over problems, not ruffle feathers.

So why does he spend his private time kicking up dust over local issues in Annapolis?

There he was again last week, amid the sound and the fury when public housing residents stormed a nighttime meeting of the Annapolis Housing Authority. Residents went to protest after word spread among the 10 public housing developments that officials wanted to ban their air conditioners and washing machines.

They were told the appliances took too heavy a toll on electrical systems and posed health and safety hazards.

Tenants didn't know whether this was rumor or real, but they went to the meeting in force. And they were angry.

Imagine being told to endure a Maryland summer without the air conditioning you've become accustomed to, and you can understand the anger.

In the middle of this fury stood Mr. Snowden, criticizing housing officials for an unfair policy.

Alderman Herbert McMillan didn't appreciate it one bit. Why the intergovernmental relations liaison for Anne Arundel County government would have any business there was beyond Mr. McMillan.

Shouldn't Ms. Owens' assistant have been tending to county business? Or at home resting after a presumably hard day's work?

You can't claim to be part of the government on Monday and an activist on Saturday, Mr. McMillan told the Annapolis Capital. I don't think anybody in city government appreciates his interference in city issues.

Mr. McMillan must have been misinformed. Perhaps someone told him that Mr. Snowden was required to relinquish his Annapolis residency and his interest and involvement in local affairs when he joined county government. It would be an easy mistake to make. County employees are prohibited from serving in elected office, and Mr. McMillan may have thought that community activism was forbidden, too.

After all, it was a bad night for the alderman. He attended the board meeting, where as many as 200 people tried to cram into a small room, to contribute to the discussion.

The crowd reacted to Housing Authority Executive Director P. Holden Croslan, who is genuinely a courageous and effective administrator.

But she somehow let people get the impression -- the wrong impression -- that she would confiscate air conditioners that are necessities during August's dog days, particularly for the elderly.

Ms. Holden is the administrator who was pilloried several months ago for supporting Mr. McMillan's misguided and probably unconstitutional anti-drug loitering law. I disagreed with her over the loitering bill. The law is not needed; she has helped to improve public housing safety without it. But I think she showed courage for standing behind the controversial law if she really believed in it.

She was attacked with epithets at last week's meeting after tenants heard about the air conditioner takeaway. She didn't deserve that kind of treatment.

But Mr. McMillan deserved the treatment he got at the meeting.

The alderman sought to turn the predominantly African-American crowd into a congregation.

Mr. McMillan opened his remarks by asking the angry gathering to pray.

Insulting, patronizing and condescending are three words that come to mind. Would he have tried this ploy at a predominantly white gathering?

There is a time to pray but, as Mr. McMillan should have known, that wasn't the time.

He still insists that it was. "I simply thought it would be useful to stand back and see that we have things in common," he said.

His gesture shows again how much out of touch he is with at least one segment of his constituency.

The alderman shouldn't waste his time complaining about Mr. Snowden. What the county's liaison does on the job is Ms. Owens' business, and what he does outside his county government duties is his own.

There shouldn't be a question of whether Mr. Snowden, private citizen, is too involved with his city's affairs. The question is whether Alderman McMillan is involved enough.

Norris West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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