Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 11, 2007

Other accidents waiting to happen

The bridge collapse in Minnesota may have been just one of many accidents waiting to happen ("Warning from Minneapolis," editorial, Aug. 3).

The most recent report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers gives our overall infrastructure a D rating - bridges got a C, roads a D, transit a D+, rail systems a C- and navigable waterways a D-.

The group estimated that the total investment in infrastructure the nation needs over the next five years is $1.6 trillion.

Yet according to the federal Office of Management and Budget, the Highway Trust Fund's highway account will post a $3.8 billion deficit in fiscal 2009, a figure U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has called "a stark reminder that we need to re-evaluate our policies for funding and operating the nation's surface transportation network."

In many states, the private sector has been entering into partnerships with local and state governments to provide funds to create revenue-producing toll roads and bridges as well as to maintain and upgrade roads and bridges.

These consortiums are often awarded long-term concession agreements, which are basically long-term leases, even as title to the toll road or bridge remains with the government agency.

Our Maryland Department of Transportation and our State Highway Administration are exploring ways to bring the private sector into infrastructure partnerships here.

I think we need to encourage state leaders to do so to ensure that what happened in Minnesota does not happen here.

Sidney M. Levy

Baltimore

The writer is a retired construction engineer who is writing a book on public-private infrastructure partnerships for the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Charter plan creates a conflict of interest

I hope Baltimore County voters will have the good sense to defeat the proposed charter change that would allow County Council members to work for Maryland state government ("Council asks voters to change job rule," Aug. 7).

The people who drafted the Baltimore County Charter were right to restrict council members from working for the state.

And the argument that this prohibition might prevent someone from running for County Council is specious.

People who don't work in the rarefied atmosphere of elected office have to make such choices among career paths all the time.

Council members make more for their part-time jobs than most full-time county employees earn, and they get a very generous pension plan as well.

They often defend their ever-expanding salaries and benefits by saying that they work many more hours a week than the few required for formal work sessions and council meetings.

But if that's the case, how would council members have the time to devote to a state job and still serve their county constituents?

This charter change would create a potential conflict of interest.

And one of the council members' bosses - either the state or their constituents - would end up getting less than a full measure of service.

Karen Stott

Baltimore

The writer is a retired Baltimore County employee.

Gardina's past taints role in amendment

The Sun's report that Baltimore County Council member Vincent J. Gardina sat silently during Monday's public criticism of the council proposal to let state employees serve as council members underscores his misconduct on this issue ("Council asks voters to change job rule," Aug. 7).

It is commonly accepted that public officials should not influence the outcomes of issues in which they have a personal financial stake - past, present or future. And Mr. Gardina has been personally enmeshed in this issue ever since he served illegally on the council when he was a state employee.

Now, he has sponsored, and cast a crucial vote for, a proposal which could let him resume state employment.

Had Mr. Gardina observed well-established ethical standards and abstained from voting on Monday, the proposal, which required five votes to pass, would have failed by one vote.

In the past, Mr. Gardina has argued that no one cares about the rule barring state employees from council membership.

The county's elected charter commission, however, cared enough in 1956 to include the provision in the thoroughly debated charter approved by the voters in that year.

Indeed five of Maryland's six urban corridor counties have included similar measures in their charters. Prince George's County is the only exception.

If the reasons for barring state employees from council membership were obscure 50 years ago, that is no longer the case today.

Driven by the Government Accounting Standards Board to begin disclosing and providing for the staggering costs of health and retirement benefits for government employees, county council members will soon be confronted with the kinds of painful benefit-paring decisions that already have beset major private employers and unions.

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