State Digest


January 26, 2007

Elections cost Md. an extra $900,000

Maryland spent nearly $1 million on unanticipated election expenses after former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and others called for voters to cast absentee ballots last year and a flawed primary sparked a call for additional training, election officials said yesterday.

A $900,000 "deficiency appropriation" for the State Board of Elections is part of the fiscal 2008 budget currently before the General Assembly.

After a rocky primary, Ehrlich, a Republican, called on voters to cast absentee ballots on paper rather than use the state's touch-screen voting units, which the former governor argued were vulnerable to fraud. Democrats echoed the call.

The push caught election officials off guard. Local election directors had to hire temporary employees to handle the onslaught of requests, and the state's ballot printer, Diebold Election Systems, was unable to handle the demand.

Some voters didn't receive their absentee ballots in time to cast them before the state deadline.

In addition, state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone required Baltimore to retrain all of its election workers after many failed to show up for the primary.

Melissa Harris

Statewide: Annapolis

Former Anne Arundel sheriff appointed head of DNR police

Former Anne Arundel County Sheriff George F. Johnson was named superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police yesterday. He succeeds Mark S. Chaney, who is leaving state service to pursue other opportunities, Department of Natural Resources secretary-designate John R. Griffin said in a statement.

Johnson, a 22-year Anne Arundel County police veteran, was elected sheriff in 1994 and served three terms before running unsucessfully as a Democrat for Anne Arundel County executive last year.

The Natural Resources Police are responsible for enforcing conservation and boating safety laws and supporting Maryland's maritime homeland security efforts.

Associated Press

`ArtWalk' mural gets nod from Annapolis commission

The Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission unanimously approved last night an outdoor mural exhibit titled ArtWalk, designed as part of the city's tricentennial celebration of its first charter government in 1708.

Exterior changes in the historic district, which dates to Colonial times, must be reviewed and approved by the seven-member panel. The Charter 300 tricentennial ArtWalk is the most ambitious outdoor project to come before the commission.

Consisting of a series of murals, some of them enlarged pictures by the late Annapolis photographer Marion Warren, the exhibit was proposed as "temporary" -- but the commission had to decide how long the temporary installation should last. Organizers requested a three-year period, which the panel approved as part of its vote last night.

It will consist of 13 murals spread across six sites throughout the state capital, but most will be in the downtown area. Five local artists will be represented -- the others being painters Sy Mohr, George "Lassie" Belt and Greg Harlin, and illustrator Sally Wern Comport, the show's curator.

Organizers say the public arts will respect the historic diversity of Annapolis, with African-American images and maritime themes -- the latter to be displayed near the U.S. Naval Academy.

"The amazing thing is it's so inclusive," Comport said.

Some critics had questioned whether modern art would fit in with Annapolis architecture, and its stately bricks and columns.

Jamie Stiehm

Frederick County: New Market

Growth opponents submit referendum on annexation

New Market residents opposed to expanding the historic Frederick County town's boundaries have filed a petition seeking a referendum to block an annexation that could add 925 homes to the town of about 500 people.

Bud Rossig, spokesman for a newly formed group called Concerned Neighbors of New Market, said yesterday that opponents had collected 176 signatures -- apparently well above the 20 percent of the town's registered voters needed to force a referendum.

Mayor Winslow F. Burhans III estimated the town has 320 voters. The signatures must be verified and a date set for the vote.

Burhans and the town council's two other members approved the 262-acre annexation late last month, after the developer of another, even larger tract, withdrew a request to have that property annexed as well. The two annexations together would have allowed 3,050 new homes.

Though developers promised to pay for a bypass, new schools and other improvements, many residents voiced fears the growth would harm the small town, which for decades has drawn tourists to browse the antiques shops lining its quaint Main Street.

Rossig, owner of a Main Street gallery, said many residents remained opposed to the scaled-back annexation. "It's still too much at this time," he said, noting that the town already is expanding by about 350 homes as the result of earlier, smaller boundary expansions.

The mayor, who runs a cabinet-making business in town, said he believed many of those signing the petition didn't understand what is at stake. He said he hoped to persuade voters that the town has a better chance of controlling its growth if it annexes the land on its borders.

Timothy B. Wheeler

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