Running for cover in Baltimore County

Detention center: Councilmen put their political futures ahead of what's best for county residents.

May 31, 2001

IF YOU WANT to find courage in local politics, don't look in Baltimore County.

Three county councilmen this week bowed shamelessly to "NIMBYism" and voted against a plan to expand the overcrowded detention center on Kenilworth Avenue in Towson.

Never mind that the jail regularly sleeps three inmates in cells designed for two.

Tough luck that the Bosley Avenue detention center a few blocks away is a crumbling mess that county officials ought to shutter.

Kevin Kamenetz, T. Bryan McIntire and Vincent J. Gardina thought their political futures were more important. And since councilmanic redistricting might put all three in Towson, where a vocal minority has been raising a fuss about a bigger jail in their back yards, all three ducked leadership and grabbed for raw self-interest.

The councilmen might have claimed the high ground on this issue if they hadn't been so staunchly on the record in favor of jail expansion before.

In December, all three voted in favor of engineering and construction management contracts for the project. They were firmly behind the move to double the 797-bed jail's size by 2020, in fact, until the redistricting plans were unveiled last week.

They'd also have a more credible argument if it weren't so clear to everyone else that expansion is necessary. County voters decisively approved bonds for the jail expansion last November. And County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has been an unwavering supporter.

It took a piqued sense of self-preservation to go against those interests and yank $70 million from Mr. Ruppersberger's budget that was earmarked for the project. Now, he will be forced to find other ways to fund the expansion.

Meanwhile, county voters ought to take a close look at who's representing them on the council. If these three public servants were so willing to sell out principle for self-interest in this instance, there's no telling where their spineless political practices might end.

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