Fight with the sheriff over budget realities
When elected public officials such as Sheriff John Brown and myself have disagreements that hold significant consequences for the public, it is important that the issues be clearly perceived.
The sheriff is currently utilizing four deputies as members of an "anti-drug strike force." This is of concern to me for two reasons.
* The Maryland State Police have deployed a five-man unit in Carroll for the same anti-drug purpose.
* In May, the sheriff asked for seven additional officers to handle operations within Carroll's courts and the detention center -- duties which he is mandated to fulfill. The Board of Commissioners was able to fund only one of those positions -- leaving the sheriff, by his own account, seriously understaffed in both areas.
Those who can recall the 1990 general elections will remember that Sheriff Brown defeated then-incumbent Sam Sensabaugh on the very issue of whether the sheriff's department should branch out from its traditional duties of court security, serving court papers and running the jail. Mr. Sensabaugh said "yes," Mr. Brown said "no."
In both 1990 and 1994, Sheriff Brown repeatedly stressed that the Maryland State Police offered the highest level of professional policing available to Carroll countians, when voicing his opposition to establishing a county police force.
Well, here we are in September 1995, and the Maryland State Police are here in force, with five full-time officers devoted entirely to fighting drug traffickers in Carroll County. It is a larger commitment of officers than in any other Maryland county. Suddenly, the sheriff tells us that the state police can't handle our needs, and he must deploy his own unit to protect the public.
As a commissioner with responsibility for determining reasonable funding for the sheriff's department, I cannot let him have it both ways.
In May, the sheriff told the board of commissioners that the situations in both the courts and the jail presented dangerous risks to personnel and to the public if we did not fund the seven new positions. Now, in September, the sheriff says that staffing his drug strike force is more important than deploying the four officers to help meet the jail and court needs. He is mandated to do the latter. He is not mandated to field a strike force.
Which brings us to the crux of the dispute which a recent headline referred to as "Brown vs. Brown." As everyone in Carroll County should know full well by this time, the county has an acute budgeting crisis. In order to work our way through the crisis, a committee has been working since the first of August reviewing each department and agency budget to determine realistic minimum requirements.
All outside agencies, except one, responded positively to the commissioners' request that they participate. The courts, the state's attorney, the library system, the health department, the community college -- all participated. The sheriff said "no," that he was already operating with less than he needed.
The commissioners have told all concerned that the growth in county spending is being reined in, and that their focus must return to what is essential, not the "add-ons" they've become accustomed to promoting.
Frankly, the sheriff's attitude flies in the face of that message. We've told everyone that there are no sacred cows. Even the school system budgets for this year and next have already been limited to the "maintenance of effort" increases required by state law. We are serious about government doing better with the resources it already has, and the sheriff has refused to get in step.
The dispute between the sheriff and me is about budgets. I have simply stated that I will not vote to approve increases in funding for the sheriff's department until he utilizes his resources exclusively for performing the duties mandated to the sheriff, and submits his budget to the review scrutiny being given to all others.
Any side issues raised by the sheriff, including those relative to our respective memories of conversations long past, are simply that -- beside the point.
W. Benjamin Brown
The writer is vice president of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners.
'A smiling man giving to others'
Barclay Brown of Westminster lived only three years beyond the half-century mark. But in that time, he accomplished more good than many who live much longer.
He called the building which housed his pastoral counseling office, the Center for Healing Arts. He was a healer, as well as a man of integrity, compassion and mercy. There was testimony to this at his lengthy funeral -- from those he counseled in that office; from family and friends; from members of the churches he had served, and from other pastors, including United Methodist Bishop Joseph Jeakel, District Superintendent Bernard Keels and Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach, who is the former pastor of the Union Street Church in Westminster.
His training of Carroll Hospice volunteers was an invaluable service to a rapidly growing organization. His participation in annual September Song productions always yielded quality performances, most recently as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof."
His daughter Lara described him as "a smiling man who was always giving to others." She was right.
Rev. Barclay Brown was many things to many people. He made people believe that they were special in some way and so they tried to refine whatever good he saw in them. His own love of life was contagious.
One of the final and most fitting tributes to Barclay Brown before he was laid to rest was offered by his former pastor, Rev. John Humbert, who suggested that Barclay was even then "raising a toast to life, to love, to lives that love."
You could try these cuts, or you could get a puppy
Instead of starting each day with the prospect of compiling a fresh list of invectives and charges to hurl at the county's elected officials generally and the education department in particular, I would respectfully suggest that Art Lego of the Carroll County Taxpayers Association consider getting himself a puppy.
After reading his barbed letter to the editor (Sept. 17), it is quite obvious he needs a diversion of some sort from his crusade against those that he has targeted as responsible for the county's financial woes: the spendthrift commissioners and gluttonous educators.
I just did, and it has done wonders for me. Having to respond to his constant demands and enjoying his playful antics leaves me little time to ponder the world's problems, let alone such mundane matters as the county's taxes or school budget.
True to form, the only solution Mr. Lego offers for solving the county's money problems -- today's and tomorrow's -- is to make deep cuts across the board in the operating budget, with the deepest cuts in the education portion. While he might be in favor of cutting the education funds to the bone, he sure wouldn't leave even the thinnest slice of fat.
I guess we could do a few practical things to keep the budget down that would be in line with his thinking, like:
* Sealing the county off from the rest of the state (a moat might work).
* Setting a fixed quota on the number of families that could move to the county each year (giving preference to couples without any offspring).
* Adopting China's approach to controlling growth by limiting each family to only one kid (twins would count as one if identical).
* If it is cost-effective, renovating those 50-plus one-room school houses that are still standing throughout the county (relying, of course, on volunteers to do most of the work).
If such measures are deemed too draconian (even for Mr. Lego), then perhaps a few less drastic steps might be easier to digest such as cutting the teachers' salaries and benefits by at least one third -- and in half for administrators; placing a freeze on the hiring of new teachers; requiring kids who live within a six-mile radius of their schools to walk (or hitchhike) or have their parents do the driving instead of riding on those expensive yellow buses, and last but not least, utilizing large, open-air tents (with flaps for inclement weather) to accommodate the overflow, if any, from regular classrooms.
Gosh, I hope Art doesn't think I am trying to steal his thunder (or script) and that he will still rush out and buy himself a puppy. Maybe two.