Meeting features a light touch

Cooperation: A transportation update has the tone of a county reunion as officials are enlightened.

October 26, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

How many high-ranking Howard County officials does it take to turn on the lights? At least three, based on what happened at the start of the annual state Department of Transportation briefing on transportation projects in Ellicott City on Thursday night.

The meeting had the flavor of an extended family reunion, with the new crew of Ehrlich administration Republican state officials visiting their former home turf, where they got a friendly greeting from County Executive James N. Robey and House delegation Chairman Frank S. Turner, both Democrats. The rest of the welcoming committee of four Howard state legislators and two County Council members was Republican.

A beaming state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard resident and longtime state delegate, and his deputy, Trent Kittleman, a West Friendship resident and wife of state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, led the transportation team.

Senator Kittleman's son, western county Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, also attended, along with Ellicott City Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, and state Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller -- Republicans all.

"It's nice to be home with friends," Flanagan smiled.

But before anyone could enter the County Council chamber, named the Banneker Room, someone had to figure out how to turn on the lights, and no custodian was in evidence.

Robey opened the utility door in a back wall and tried to figure out the myriad switches, but he quickly retreated to a telephone to call for help.

Next, Bates, who was a top aide to former County Executive Charles I. Ecker in the 1990s, tried her hand, and managed to turn on a couple of the lights used to illuminate televised meetings. Finally, James M. Irvin, the county public works director, took a turn, and produced enough light to get the meeting under way. A buildings employee appeared a few minutes later and sat in the back in case more help was needed.

The talk quickly turned to Maryland's empty transportation trust fund, the highway tolls Flanagan said will be needed to help replenish it and pay for the multibillion-dollar Intercounty Connector highway in Montgomery County and the $200 million widening of Route 32 in western Howard County.

With cost-cutting on everyone's mind, Flanagan could not resist revisiting the lights issue.

"I'm very proud of your effort [at saving money] when we showed up and you had the lights off," Flanagan said, tongue in cheek.

"Every little bit helps," Robey replied.

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