Transportation key for region

A Conversation With: Key For Region

March 05, 2001|By NORRIS P. WEST

Editorial writer Norris P. West recently spoke with Janet S. Owens, who is more than halfway through her first term as Anne Arundel County executive and is expected to seek re-election next year. Their discussion focused on county and regional issues.

There's been a lot of talk about regionalism -- the county executives and the mayor of Baltimore working together to solve problems. How would you describe what's happened in the last two years?

When I first came into office, the issues in Anne Arundel County were so important. [Baltimore County Executive C.A.] Dutch [Ruppersberger] called me and said, "Janet, it's very important that you participate both with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and the Greater Baltimore Alliance." I was bombarded with invitations to boards and all sorts of things. I followed Dutch's advice, and I quickly found that those forums, those two in particular -- the BMC because of transportation planning -- were extremely important. And the GBA because of the way Ioanna Morfessis runs it; she never wastes anybody's time.

What activities through regional partnerships have been most revealing to you about how this area works?

Probably the transportation issue because there was great citizen disapproval about how the transportation plan is developed. And that led to the appointment of the Hellman commission to look at all the regional transportation needs. That's moving into ... planning for a 2030 visioning plan for the region.

When we all meet on those issues, you become focused on everybody's concerns. So I can talk to you about [Howard County Executive] Jim Robey's need to revitalize Route 1, and poor [Harford County Executive] Jim Harkins up there with his problems with Aberdeen and the Aberdeen Proving Ground and problems with why he had to raise every conceivable tax. It creates a forum where we focus on issues that we all share in common. And for the most part, these are infrastructure problems.

It's roads, it's schools, it's the environment. How do we deal with those areas where we don't even know what the state-of-the-art is, how we deal with public transportation initiatives. So all of our time together is spent on things that we worry about in our own backyard but where we overlap.

What's the genesis of your partnership with Gov. Parris Glendening and why do you enjoy such a good relationship with him?

It's interesting because I had met the governor before I came into office, and the governor certainly did not support my candidacy for county executive. But from Day One [he has been supportive]. I assume it's because we share several important values -- preservation of land, open spaces, protection of the environment and the unalterable commitment to public education. I know they're core values with him, and they certainly are with me. And that has made it very easy for us to work together and to communicate.

Let's talk about economic development. A lot of people had regarded that as your weak point before you came into office. Was that true, and is that why you've worked to overcome that weakness?

I don't think it was my weak point. What I think is that the business community didn't know me. They assumed that because I campaigned so aggressively on education and the preservation of land, which sometimes are seen as soft issues instead of hard business-related issues, that they just presumed that somehow I would be something of an enemy. I worked hard to reach out to those groups early on. In fact, my first public speaking appearance was before the BWI Partnership. And, frankly, I didn't know most of those groups, either.

Who do you turn to for advice when you have a problem or concern with Anne Arundel County government?

It depends upon the nature of the problem. I count on my department heads. ... I depend on certain people for certain kinds of issues. For example, yesterday I went to see [former U.S. congresswoman] Beverly Byron to ask her advice for something. I tend to reach out to different folks for different kinds of issues. And when it comes to truly personal things -- feeling really tired, and it's like, "Oh, dear" -- then it's those home folks down in South County. Old friends. For one thing, it's hard to have friends in this position.

Have you lost friendships?

It's more that it's put on hold. Friends joke with me and say, "Well, we'll see you in four years" or "in eight years."

What do you do for fun?

I love movies. So if there's an opportunity, I go to movies?

What kind of movies do you like?

Right now, I want to go see ["Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"], but I haven't had the opportunity. Normally, [husband] David [Sheehan] and I, before I got into office, went to the movies at least every other week. I haven't been to a movie in about six months. There's very little free time in this job, except when I go away. That was something the governor and Mrs. Glendening told me -- and at first I thought they were exaggerating -- which was you would absolutely have to leave the county [for vacations].

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