Robey failing in leadership, Adler contends

Executive candidate notes `teacher crisis,' crime

Challenger `doesn't understand'

Incumbent calls remarks `pure political rhetoric'

Howard County

October 06, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Charging failures of leadership in what he terms a "teacher crisis in Howard County" and in dealing with problems in Columbia's Oakland Mills village, Republican county executive candidate Steven H. Adler has attacked Howard County executive James N. Robey, a Democrat seeking re-election.

The double-barreled broadside enlivens what has been a relatively quiet executive campaign four weeks before the Nov. 5 election.

"There is a teacher crisis in Howard County that has not been acknowledged by the current county executive," Adler said, noting school system studies showing a 35.9 percent departure rate for teachers after five years and low morale.

He said the Howard school system may be "top heavy with central office administrators," and advocated paying experienced mentor teachers higher salaries for working in schools that need help.

Robey, he said, is too passive a leader.

"You should be thought-provoking and active." Instead of working behind the scenes, "if he likes what they're doing he should say so, and if he has a suggestion he should say so," Adler said.

Robey dismissed the comments.

"He obviously doesn't understand the role of the county executive and the role of the elected school board," Robey said about Adler's education charges. "Steve doesn't have any idea of what I can and can't do."

Adler also vowed, if elected, to move his executive offices to the beleaguered Oakland Mills Village Center "until things improve" as a way of highlighting his commitment to change. The promise also highlights his criticism of Robey's plan for a new county government office complex on 25 acres the county bought near the current Ellicott City complex.

"He hasn't played enough of a leadership role," Adler said about Robey. "The Robey administration has had over 3 1/2 years now, and the Oakland Mills situation, in terms of crime, the village center, is just awful. The residents of Oakland Mills should be up in arms," he said. "Somebody has to get off the dime," he said.

Robey labeled Adler's comments "pure political rhetoric, that's all."

Adler would never actually move the executive's offices, Robey said. "He knows he wouldn't do it," Robey said.

He further accused the Republican of taking advantage of fear created by a recent killing in Oakland Mills for political gain.

"I think Mr. Adler has stooped to a new low of sleaze," Robey said, by having a campaign volunteer distribute political literature at a police-sponsored community meeting in Oakland Mills called to inform the community about the killing of a man there Sept. 27. "I don't think that's the time for politics," Robey said.

Barbara Russell, Columbia Council member for Oakland Mills who also is a County Council employee, said a four-story senior housing building for moderate income people age 62 and older is under consideration for the former village center Exxon gas station site, and negotiations for a new grocery store are under way.

Robey helped create the village's revitalization committee, and his administration has worked closely with residents, merchants and landowners to help, she said.

Adler, operating partner of Savage Mills, is trying to unseat Robey, a former county police chief who even Republicans say privately will be hard to defeat.

Robey, who has been endorsed by the teachers union, frequently talks about raising teachers' pay 18 percent during his first term and funding every new classroom seat the school board requested. He said he frequently talks to school board members and officials privately, but does not want to upstage elected board members in public.

"I don't have the authority to sit here as county executive and dictate to them what to do," he said."

School board member James O'Donnell, whom Robey appointed, said, "We have a leader of the school system. He's entering his third year."

School Superintendent John R. O'Rourke needs time to make a myriad of ambitious changes now in the works, O'Donnell said.

Joseph Staub, president of the Howard County Education Association, said Adler's figures on turnover were correct, but the union is backing Robey because he has provided county schools with more money in three years than his Republican predecessor Charles I. Ecker did in eight years.

Although they got no cost-of-living raise this year, Staub said, teachers will get 4 percent next year and 6 percent the year after under a three-year contract with the school board.

There are problems, but not a crisis, he said, and Robey has done what he should have for schools.

Administrative reforms and changes are "exactly the responsibility of the board and the superintendent, not the county executive," Staub said.

Adler noted two references in the 2001 school performance review and a 2001 Hiring and Separation Report as the basis for his comments that a teacher crisis exists.

The separation report showed that of the 270 teachers hired for the 1994-1995 academic year, 35.9 percent had left five years later.

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