A decision by state bureaucrats to put a $1.2 million day-care center at their new office building in Crownsville has infuriated lawmakers, who say they were never consulted.
The legislators say the money, left over from construction of the $23 million office building, should have been returned to the state general fund to offset the $427 million deficit.
Instead, officials of the Department of Housing and Community Development used the money for a free-standing day-care center for 100 children. The center is next to the 105,000-square-foot "Crownsville People's Resource Center" off General's Highway that will house 900 state housing department employees and county and court offices. It is scheduled to open within three months.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer endorsed the concept of the day-care center in June 1989, but the General Assembly was never consulted.
Sen. John Lapides, D-Baltimore, who sits on the subcommittee that reviews the housing department'sbudget, said the center's cost, which comes to $12,000 per child, isan "unconscionable" waste. He also called the decision to build the center without consulting the legislature "fairly dishonest.
"If we had gotten the chance to review this before it was built we would have had some questions. For instance: Why a free-standing building? Why couldn't they have incorporated it into the building we did approve for them?" Lapides said. "Also, whether the state should be providing day care to its employees is a major policy question and it shouldhave never gone ahead without legislative approval so it could be inline with a statewide policy.
"Opposing day care is like opposing motherhood, but it has to be cost-effective," he said.
Housing Deputy Secretary Ardath Cade said the day-care center couldn't be incorporated into the original building plans because they'd already received the contractors' proposals when they decided to add the center.
Blueprints show an 8,300-square-foot, one-story building with a spire, glass interior walls, two full-service kitchens, a lounge area, sick room, intercom system and $58,000 worth of furniture -- all provided at taxpayers' expense. The finished project would be handed over -- rent-free -- to a private operator, who would supply employees andtoys.
The 100 slots at the day care center would be offered firstto state employees, including those working at the Crownsville State Hospital or those who may live in the area and work elsewhere. Remaining vacancies would be offered to the public, which would be charged18 percent more than state workers. The fees have not been set.
Cade says she's responsible for pushing the project through and standsby the center. She regrets only that she failed to inform the House and Senate budget committees about it and still hopes the state-of-the-art center becomes a model for both the public and private sectors.
Cade said decisions were made in the open with the knowledge of the Board of Public Works, the General Services and Budget and Fiscal Planning departments and with the governor's support.
But state officials failed to heed the instructions of Mark Wasserman, a top aideto Schaefer. In an October 1989 memo, he told Cade and her superior, Housing Secretary Jacqueline Rogers, that they were to "assume the lead on ensuring that the project enjoys legislative support."
"I simply failed to do it and I don't know why. I don't have any rationale. I generally like to talk to legislators," said Cade, who is married to Senate Minority Leader John Cade, R-Severna Park.
The 1989 capital budget appropriation does not say how many buildings are part of the Crownsville project. Whether or not it was legal for the Schaefer administration to re-allocate that money for a second free-standing building is a matter open to interpretation.
Assistant Attorney General Cecelia Januszkiewicz, counsel to the Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning, issued a legal opinion in October 1989 that said: "It is not unreasonable to assume 'office complex' to include a day-care center, which would enhance the state's ability to attract employees."
However, Delegate Martha Klima, R-Baltimore County, a memberof the health and environment subcommittee, rejected Januszkiewicz's advice. "She just pulled this opinion out of thin air. It was very casually worded, with no citations."
Klima sharply questioned Januszkiewicz during a Feb. 14 House subcommittee hearing on the housing department's budget.
Klima chided the attorney for not knowing about the Pinsky Law, which calls for the state to provide a pilot day-care program before approving new centers.
Januszkiewicz defended the memo: "The opinion stands on its own (and) is not an official opinion of the Attorney General's office."
This week, House Appropriations vice-chairman Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-Baltimore, also criticized the project and Januszkiewicz's opinion, accusing her of "substituting her personal opinion for legal judgment.
"We've never done a day-care center before and we have built hundreds of office buildings in the state and none of them had a day-care center inside or outside," Rawlings said.
Offering day care to employees at the Crownsville facility may open the door to millions of dollars in lawsuits from employees at the hundreds of state office buildings that don't offer day care.
During a Feb. 12 Senate budget review hearing, Rogers deferred all inquiries on the day-care center to her deputy, Cade. "Talk to Ardath, she's our point person on facilities and I'm ignorant, so there was no way for me to do anything to help."
But Klima, who heard a similar comment at her hearing Feb. 14, was not impressed. "If you believe (Secretary Rogers) was not closely involved, then I've got a piece of property I want to sell you."
Klima and Rawlings both said the unauthorized construction of the Crownsville center was handled so badly that it could severely damage the chances for a statewide day-care program.
"We have both been very outspoken about this and we believe this could set back day-care programs in the state 25 years," Klima said.