Political rift grows deeper in Anne Arundel Co.; Annapolis official fires a round in ongoing battle

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An Annapolis alderman's feud with a county official who has remained active in city issues has escalated into a political battle drawn along party lines, some observers say.

Alderman Herbert H. McMillan's recent public criticism of County Executive Janet S. Owens' failure to respond to his concerns about one of her staff members has sent a ripple through the city and those familiar with the sometimes delicate relationship between the county and the state capital.

Some call it a political play by the first-term Republican alderman. Other say it's a breakdown in communication between the two governments that needs to be addressed.

"To ignore a member of the Annapolis government demonstrates an insincerity that borders on arrogance," McMillan told the County Council last week during its monthly meeting.

In a letter sent to Owens on March 17, McMillan noted what he said are examples of inappropriate involvement by Carl O. Snowden -- Owens' special assistant and McMillan's predecessor as Ward 5 alderman -- in city issues.

McMillan has been critical of Snowden's activism, particularly in the last six weeks, as public housing residents and community leaders have rallied to improve conditions at the city's 10 developments.

McMillan's specific complaint centers on Snowden's attendance at a March 2 rally held by frustrated residents of the city's public housing complexes. Snowden has attended many of the meetings on the issue, including the city's human relations commission hearing Thursday night on the matter. He often speaks at the events, which McMillan says is wrong.

At the March rally, Snowden led a chant against the housing authority. Then, at a housing authority board of commissioners meeting four days later, Snowden offered Owens' assistance, McMillan wrote.

McMillan says Snowden's political activism poses a conflict of interest because of his status as a county official.

"He was way over the line," McMillan said. "You can't be an activist on March 2 and then on March 6 represent the county executive."

McMillan said he called Owens on March 6 to discuss the matter and did not receive a return call. He then wrote the letter outlining his concerns on March 17. He said he didn't receive a reply until last week.

Snowden declined to commenton the issue.

Owens also declined to comment on McMillan's complaint.

In the letter sent to McMillanlast week, Owens wrote that she doesn't want to prohibit anyone in her administration from exercising his constitutional rights because of his "day-time government employment."

"I am sure that you appreciate the fact that there are many present and former elected and appointed officials, at all levels of government, who reside within the Annapolis community," Owens wrote. "Each of those individuals have the opportunity to involve themselves in the larger community and it is their right to do so."

McMillan disagreed, saying that elected officials never shed their titles.

"I'm sorry. As a government official, I'm a 24-hour employee," he said.

McMillan released his letter to Owens to the media and read it aloud during the public comment period at the Anne Arundel County Council meeting Monday.

In Owens' letter, the county executive said she would like to meet with the alderman, Mayor Dean L. Johnson and her legislative liaison, Kevin O'Keeffe, who is charged with responding directly to elected officials on her behalf.

"In this way, you can be assured that if you need a contact point in this Administration, and I am not available to address an immediate concern, then there is a person who has the responsibility to respond to your concerns," Owens wrote. "If we use that established protocol, perhaps we can have dialogue between elected officials rather than rush to the press where elected officials attack one another."

Roger W. "Pip" Moyer, a community activist who has served as alderman and mayor of Annapolis, said McMillan's public expression of outrage with the county executive is a bid to position himself within a larger political arena and attack Owens.

"That was strictly a Republican partisan play to enhance his own career," said Moyer, a Democrat, of McMillan's appearance before the County Council. "It's very obvious that the Republicans, led by McMillan in this case, are trying to embarrass the county executive."

In defense of Snowden, Moyer said other city officials, such as city spokesman Thomas W. Roskelly, have also expressed their personal opinions at city council meetings.

But, McMillan said, he went before the council because Owens had not responded to his letter and he felt an elected official has an obligation to acknowledge residents' concerns.

"It wasn't a political attack," McMillan said.

Roskelly said he was surprised by Moyer's comment and said he has never used his title to strengthen his personal views.

Bert L. Rice, a former county councilman who spoke with McMillan at the council meeting, said the alderman has legitimate concerns about the lack of communication between the city and county. He said Owens should apologize to McMillan and meet with him to address his concerns.

"I think it's rude and inappropriate that an elected official receives a letter from another elected official and doesn't respond," said Rice, a Republican who served on the council from 1994 to 1998.

Johnson said that although some may be concerned about Owens' delayed response, the city and county enjoy a co- operative relationship. He said a recent agreement on a shared wastewater treatment plan is evidence of this cordiality.

But, Johnson said, he would have responded to another elected official's concerns within one week.

"The quickest way sometimes is to pick up the phone," Johnson said.

Moyer, who was elected to the council in 1961 and was elected to the first of two terms as mayor four years later, said Johnson must realize the county executive has more responsibilities than the mayor and that it is important to maintain a good relationship with the county.

Tensions between Snowden and McMillan are long-standing. Snowden, a Democrat, was the Ward 5 alderman for 12 years before making an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 1997. McMillan, a political newcomer, won Snowden's seat.

A few weeks before the election, Snowden criticized the Republican Party for not finding a black candidate to run for the seat, which represents a predominantly African-American ward. McMillan countered that the criticism was race-baiting.

In June, McMillan linked Snowden to an effort have him ousted from the council, after the alderman introduced an anti-loitering bill in an effort to curb drug activity in troubled neighborhoods.

McMillan sent a fund-raising letter to 1,100 Republicans, pinning the recall election effort on "partisan extremists led by Carl Snowden." McMillan said last week he would respond to Owens' letter when he returned from vacation this weekend. He said he was pleased that Owens responded to his letter, but pointed out that she did not answer his question about Snowden's role at the rally and housing commissioners' meeting.

"Basically, she uses this letter to provide a smoke screen for her lack of response," McMillan said.

Sun staff writer Scott Calvert contributed to this article.

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