What would you do if you hired a contractor to renovate your kitchen; gave him a $25,000 deposit and then after fiddling around taking measurements and flying in an expert remodeler from afar at your expense the contractor had the gall to demand $60,000 from you for design change charges; yet he had not accomplished any part of the job you hired him for four years ago? Now he would like another $25,000 for his time planning the job, but can't tell you when he may finish, how much it will cost or guarantee you will be satisfied with his work.
Well that is exactly what the Carroll County Commissioners have done in using taxpayer funds to support the Clean Chesapeake Coalition (CCC) and they have none other than Commissioner Richard Rothschild egging them on to pay up the extra $25,000 in the fiscal year 2017 budget.
Despite the obvious fact that Carroll has no Chesapeake Bay frontage, Commissioner Rothschild used his entire 15 minutes at the most recent State of the County presentation in January to talk about another of his wild goose chases, the CCC (his latest Agenda 21 theory).
An investigation of county records obtained through a Public Information Act request shows that your renovation contractor, in this case the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, does not have a single employee; that it's just a cover for a bunch of lawyers pretending to be your contractor.
I recently asked the coalition if I could speak with one of its Chesapeake Bay experts and received an e-mail in response from the Baltimore Funk & Bolton law firm telling me that there is no staff at the coalition. In essence, the county has been paying $25,000 a year in dues to Funk & Bolton, which is a cover for the coalition. Coincidentally, the coalition's mailing address is the same as Funk & Bolton's. That information encouraged me to submit a Public Information Act (PIA) request to the county government for documents related to the coalition and because the county made its first payment of $25,000 three-plus years ago and then flew in an expert at Rothschild's bidding to sell the county on getting other Maryland counties to join the club at the same rate; calling the payments "dues." (Some other counties did join; some of them, like Frederick, have since bowed out.)
In response to my PIA, I've since received over 1,500 documents about the county's relationship with the coalition, er, Funk & Bolton, many of which tell the story I've outlined above. Rothschild has represented the county and is shepherding the annual dues disguised as "legal expenses" hidden in the County Attorney's budget so the public would not see them itemized. The others commissioners have gone along for the ride with the majority regularly voting for the expense. That same $25,000 expense is now slithering quietly along under the rug toward approval in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, again disguised as legal expenses rather than dues. Only one commissioner, Dennis Frazier, has acted to stop the expense.
All of the commissioners are aware of this shell game. I've sent them all detailed messages disclosing it. They have seen billing statements from Funk & Bolton showing that more than half the dues are spent on internal Funk & Bolton meetings and Funk & Bolton phone calls; that the rest is spent in attendance at various Bay-related meetings or by focusing on oyster harvesting for watermen. Funk & Bolton would also like you to believe that they single-handedly discovered the sedimentation behind the Conowingo Dam and have a sure-fire way to resolve it, while in fact, it is the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program that has been steadfastly at work resolving this sticky wicket.
It's time for this charade to end. The commissioners should vote to halt this political waste of tax dollars and invest the money where it will actually do some good.
Neil Ridgely writes from Finksburg.