Friends and family system

Favoritism: Anne Arundel executive allows underlings to mix personal and public business.

September 19, 2000

COUNTY EXECUTIVE Janet S. Owens' reputation is flagging quickly behind allegations of cronyism in her administration.

People are uttering that ugly "C" word and phrases like "good ol' boy system" because Ms. Owens has allowed this to happen. Some high-ranking and mid-level officials don't seem to realize that they can't abuse their authority.

A number of ill-advised administrative actions have caused outrage and concern.

Last month, the county's police chief intervened to spring the son of a county executive ally from police custody after his arrest on breaking and entering charges. Police officers have derided the action, saying the chief improperly issued a "get out of jail free" card.

Questions surfaced after the county administration transferred 16 acres of land to a country club that a friend of Ms. Owens partly owns.

The Sun reported Sunday that a high-ranking county personnel officer helped a friend -- a county secretary -- advance her career by allowing a teen-ager to take a typing test for the secretary.

This is not what citizens expected when they elected Ms. Owens two years ago. They wanted someone who would put education first -- which she has done -- but they didn't want a leader who would condone bad government.

Yet allegations of impropriety have come so fast that the county's part-time Ethics Commission might have to work overtime to keep pace. Although the commission declined to launch an inquiry into the land transfer, questions remain over whether the administration handled the deal properly. The other matters remain open.

As the head of government, Ms. Owens must take final responsibility. The public deserves an explanation of how these improprieties happened. She also must take the necessary steps to end cronyism before it goes any farther.

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