Executive is on the air

A new county TV show offers a forum for issues

May 05, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Less than 36 hours after the General Assembly session came to a close, the Anne Arundel County executive sat on her office couch with a lot to say, and a new forum to say it in.

Smiling to a TV camera, Executive Janet S. Owens praised the local legislative delegation for pushing through a bill to expand the number of restaurant liquor licenses in the county and expressed glee that the county had reaped millions for school construction before time ran out.

"Oh, shoot, I forgot to say something on open space," she said.

She would get another chance. As the executive producer and main face of the county's new weekly TV news show, Owens gets all the air time she wants to highlight the workings of county government.

Created and produced by county employees, Anne Arundel County Week in Review offers a mix of county news - including legislative reports and interviews with county officials - and local sports, from high schools to rec leagues.

The weekly program airs for 30 to 40 minutes repeatedly on the county's cable-access Channel 98, from Friday through Monday. No other county government in the Baltimore-Washington region airs such a weekly show, although Montgomery County and Baltimore once did, said Rhonda Wardlaw, Owens' chief spokeswoman.

Owens said she created the show in February because she believes that the media, particularly newspapers, don't do a good enough job of educating readers on local issues, such as the effect of legislation, land-use regulation and the budget.

"We are solving problems - doing things every day," Owens said of the nearly 4,000 county employees under her purview, adding that she's "giving up on the print media on that."

So despite a certain disdain for the media - on a wall in fourth-floor office hands a sign: "You have a right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you." - Owens has emerged as a constant newsmaker.

And she has dragged her department heads and other top county officials in front of the camera to put into context for residents the decisions they make every day.

When Betty Dixon, the land-use and environment coordinator, and Lois Villemaire, another Planning and Zoning official, arrived at the Arundel Center last week for separate taped interviews with Owens, both women came formally dressed, their hair primped.

"You look like naturals in front of the camera," Central Services Officer Fred Schram said to the pair.

"It's a little intimidating that you be interviewed by the county executive for a cable TV show," Dixon said yesterday. Her interview on land preservation efforts ran last weekend.

Owens said yesterday that she would remain a prominent face on the cable program, even as she runs for state comptroller.

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly inserted into the budget a provision that bars Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and other candidates seeking statewide office from appearing in state-financed promotional ads.

Some have criticized Ehrlich and Schaefer for appearing in such ads, saying they do more for self-promotion than anything else.

"It's the governor and other state officials who have agreed through legislation to remove themselves from billboards and TV ads to give the appearance they are not using public funds to promote themselves," said Erik Robey, state Republican vice chairman.

Robey said Owens, as county executive, should promote the county's interests, but "there is a question if she is overdoing it."

Owens said of her show: "There's nothing political about it. The purpose of it is for news."

Wardlaw, a 26-year television veteran, has been crucial in bringing Owens' vision on screen. Wardlaw emphasized that the show offers county news that hasn't been seen anywhere else yet.

In the episode that premiered at 7 p.m. April 28, the executive spoke about negotiations to protect a 575-acre tract in South County. Owens said the county has been working for 14 months to secure the land.

"Time is running out," Owens said. " ... We need to preserve every inch we can get."

During the interview with Villemaire on a recently approved county bill that designates 154 roads as scenic and historic, Owens stopped reading from her teleprompter.

She told how a wealthy resident in South County once asked her to widen a narrow, winding road near his house. The road happened to be of historic significance.

"You are not going to get any support from me," Owens recounted.

The segment ended, and Owens shot a pleased look at Wardlaw.

"You didn't know I was going to tell that story," the executive said.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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