County Executive to Get $65,000 Bathroom

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett's security detail thinks walking to and from the public restroom exposes him to harm, aides say.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett's security detail thinks walking to and from the public restroom exposes him to harm, aides say. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
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By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

As Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett works to raise taxes and eliminate 225 jobs, a construction crew is installing a bathroom in his locked suite of offices, complete with a small sitting room and shower. The cost to taxpayers: $65,225.

Leggett's aides said yesterday that his security detail did not want him using the public restroom because walking to and from the facility could expose him to harm. The shower was included, an aide said, because Leggett lives about 40 minutes away from the Rockville office and regularly attends evening events without having time to freshen up at home.

"I don't see this as a big expenditure," Leggett (D) said. Describing himself as "the guy who flies coach and spends sparingly," he said, "It's not something I asked for."

The timing of the project could be politically problematic. The bathroom budget was approved in June, but the construction coincides with his proposal to raise property taxes, offer employee buyouts and trim spending to close a $297 million budget shortfall.

"I can't believe they would do that now. We're taking it on the chin, and we're looking for every dime we can find," said County Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring). "I think this is an extravagance, not something that has to be done."

Ervin said she uses the public restroom on the sixth floor of the council building, although there is a bathroom with a shower available to council members and their aides in their secure suite of offices.

For almost all of his 12-year tenure, Leggett's immediate predecessor, Douglas M. Duncan (D), used a public restroom. He had a private bathroom when he was first elected but scrapped it to create a kitchenette for employees. A major renovation of the executive's floor in Duncan's first year cost more than $1 million.

"We had perfectly good bathrooms right at the elevators," he said yesterday. When asked whether he ever felt unsafe using the public restroom, Duncan chuckled, "Heck no."

In the District, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) uses the public bathroom on the Bullpen floor at city hall but also has access to a private bathroom in the mayor's suite upstairs. Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) has a private bathroom that predates his election.

Unlike many government office buildings in the District, Montgomery's have no metal detectors or security checkpoints. To get to the public restroom, Leggett must travel through an often crowded lobby area and down a hallway.

"We have had some challenging, disgruntled employees or citizens demanding to see the county executive, and from a security perspective he can walk into that," Chief Administrative Officer Timothy L. Firestine said. "Quite frankly, Ike didn't want [the new bathroom], but we more or less suggested from a security perspective that he needs it."

So a crew has been working after hours to transform a closet and small office across the hallway from Leggett's Rockville office into the bathroom and "shelter-in-place." The estimated $65,255 cost includes basic tile, a Santec faucet, Toto toilet, and prefabricated countertop and sink. The price could go up $12,400 as workers wrestle with water drainage issues.

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