Elusive grass a no-show for SchaeferTrue to...


Elusive grass a no-show for Schaefer

True to his word, Gov. William Donald Schaefer stopped by the construction site of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore to see for himself an endangered grass that had forced a $70,000 relocation of the project.

But the elusive, aquatic grass, known as Eleocharis Robbinsii or Robbin's Spikerush, may have heard about the governor's angry visits and calls to constituents and did not stir from its underwater hibernation.

The grass, listed as an endangered species by state authorities, had been seen growing at the edge of a pond over which part of the museum was to be built. Natural Resources officials convinced the museum's foundation to move the project 80 feet inland to avoid over-shadowing the plant.

The move added $70,000 to the cost of the project, which is being built with both private and state funds. While reluctantly approving the additional expenditure at a Board of Public Works meeting in January, Schaefer said he wanted to see the costly grass.

George Willey, project manager at the site for the Charles E. Brohawn Bros. construction company, said the governor dropped by unannounced one morning about three weeks ago, escorted only by his driver/bodyguard. Willey obligingly took the governor to the site where the grass is supposed to be, an area at pond's edge that is fenced off in case the perennial plant reappears.

"He didn't say much," said Willey. But the governor shouldn't feel too snubbed, Willey said. Neither he nor his workers have ever seen the grass, either.

Quitting time

Worried about a proposal to lengthen their workweek from 35.5 hours to 40, state employees have flooded the phone lines at the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee with calls.

Committee staffers have logged in hundreds of calls against the longer workweek recently.

One staffer remarked that the phone calls begin in the morning, remain fairly constant throughout the day, then suddenly drop off at 4 p.m. -- when, coincidentally, many state workers go home.

Legislative liaisons

In the heat of Senate debates, lawmakers have been known to stumble over vocabulary or to fracture syntax. But last week's exchange over campaign finance rules saw some double entendres that had even veteran Senators blushing.

At issue was a proposal to encode the informal rules barring members from selling tickets to or holding fund-raisers during sessions of the General Assembly. The rule is designed to avert the appearance of members "selling" their votes in exchange for donations.

But several members protested, saying the rule has interfered with some cherished events.

Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel, bemoaned the trouble the rules would cause for his annual May bull roast. "You're saying I can't have an affair in May. I don't think that's fair," said Wagner.

Sen. Albert R. Wynn, D-Prince George's, complained that he had been forced to cancel his "Valentine's Day affair."

An exasperated Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City, corrected them: "Event. You can't have an event then. You can have an affair anytime you want."

Whip it good

How do committee leaders wield the power over lawmakers to make them vote bills up or down? When it comes to veteran Del. Tyras S. Athey, D-Anne Arundel, the likeable chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, it's not his wit, charm or intelligence, according to committee member Del. Gene W. Counihan, D-Montgomery. Instead, says Counihan, Athey uses the threat of pain to guide his committee through bill voting lists.

To make Athey's force of choice official, Ways and Means members used a House floor session to present Athey with a 16-foot leather "lunge" whip, similar to the ones Athey used years ago when he trained horses for his children.

Athey accepted the light-hearted presentation and explained later that one never touches a horse with a lunge whip. It's the whip's cracking sound that gives the horse directions.

Let the sun shine in:

You'd have thought it was Count Dracula shrinking from the dawn, not a group of public officials hearing news of the "sunshine" or open meetings law approved by the state Senate.

Members of the Baltimore school board listened intently Thursday as a city aide outlined provisions of the bill -- especially the $100 civil penalty that would be levied against officials who participate in an illegal closed meeting.

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