Making the grade on Parole, minorities


IT'S TOO BAD County Executive Janet S. Owens still wants to move forward with the current development proposal for Parole Plaza.

The decrepit shopping center just west of Annapolis has been planned for more than 30 years as a mixed-use center in Parole. It was supposed to add some urban flair to the community.

But Ms. Owens continues to side with the property's owner, Carl Freedman, who thinks Wal-Mart instead of Georgetown when he thinks town center.

Why would the county executive share his lack of vision?

Maybe the county executive wants to make sure nobody ever will accuse Anne Arundel County of not having enough large retail outlets. With the Arundel Mills mall swallowing 400 acres of land near Baltimore-Washington International Airport and now Parole Plaza's grand plans being bulldozed for a giant discount retailer, the county is safe from such a charge.

I thought that Ms. Owens would reconsider her support for Mr. Freedman's plans on how to renovate his 33-acre shopping center after she returned last week from her vacation.

The shopping center was hotly debated while she was away. During her absence, an executive of Usinternetworking Inc. sent her a letter to voice the respected technology company's displeasure with Mr. Freedman's big-box plans.

USi should have stepped into the fray earlier. It is a close neighbor, right across Riva Road, near West Street, from Parole Plaza. Despite its tardiness, however, the USi letter was important. The Internet firm moved into its headquarters and expanded -- when it thought the town center plan was still a go at Parole Plaza.

The company, like the Parole community, thought the parcel would evolve into a montage of homes, shops and offices. They envisioned a place where, ideally, a person could live, work and shop without ever getting into a car. It would be accessible by mass transit. It would be a gathering place.

It was supposed to become a model of synchronicity that exists a few miles down the road in downtown Annapolis, not another monument to suburban sprawl.

County Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk has fought for the better model, unsuccessfully so far. Ms. Owens should support her, despite the friction between the two public officials.

Ms. Owens should call a temporary truce with Ms. Samorajczyk and take a fresh look at Parole Plaza. The only issue now should be how the county can do what's best for Parole while taking Mr. Freedman's property interests into consideration. The executive can work toward a Smart Growth model that her political ally, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, wisely favors, or she can push for more deep discounts. Is that a tough call?

Ms. Owens can use her influence to persuade the developer to do better. And she can do it without taking the extraordinary step Baltimore is considering for its struggling Belvedere Square center: condemnation.

Indeed, she can lead Mr. Freedman or continue following him.

New report card

Also this past week, Ms. Owens received a report card from the nonpartisan United Black Clergy on her performance.

The ministers gave her a B, which is identical to the 3.0 average she received from The Sun's editorial board in December after her first year in office.

On The Sun's report card, we graded Ms. Owens in four categories -- administration, education, environment and economic development. She earned an A for education -- she truly has become the education executive. But she got a C for administration, an area in which she could easily improve. She has shown surprisingly strong economic development skills, luring a number of high-technology jobs to the county (although the aforementioned Parole situation works against her), and she's probably doing A work on the environment by contributing $3 million a year to Anne Arundel's agricultural preservation efforts.

The clergy looked at different, though still important, criteria.

Ms. Owens received a better score from the clergy than did the Anne Arundel County Council (which got only a C) because of her attentiveness to African-American cultural events. She deserves lots of credit for killing the county's adopt-a-road program rather than let the Ku Klux Klan participate, and she sparkled at the dedication of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley memorial.

But the executive was criticized, along with the council, for failing to initiate a minority-contracting program. Minorities may be easy to forget on a council that has no minority members and a county executive branch that has few high-ranking officials of color.

Instead of bickering over petty issues, as the county executive and council are wont to do, they should take the clergy's concerns seriously and make a sincere effort to distribute county contracts more equitably.

Norris P. West writes editorials on Anne Arundel County for The Sun.

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