The late James Patrick Noonan Jr. was a man who spent his working days protecting the consumers of Arlington County.
As the county's weights and measures inspector for 8 years, he cared if an Arlington County shopper got a roast that weighed less than five pounds when he paid for a five-pound roast.
He cared if a gas station pump doled out less than six gallons of gas when the customer paid for six gallons.
In fact, he cared 85,000 times each year as he random checks of packaged goods to make sure they weighed what they claimed.
But Noonan died on Jan. 9. The county has not yet replaced him, and the question now is whether it ever will.
A consumer affairs worker who always contacted Noonan when Arlington residents called to complain that there was too much water in the gas they bought or that the food they bought didn't weigh what the package said it should, said, "We could have used 12 Mr. Noonans."
Noonan's supervisor, Charles Hammond, said he made a routine formal request to replace the county weights and measures inspector in late January, "but I haven't received any confirmation or approval or disapproval." Now, he says, "it's the (county) manager's problem."
Five days a week, "except for a rare snow days." Noonan made scheduled and unscheduled checks of filling station pumps to make sure they were accurate, inspected gas storage tanks to insure they were free of water and checked weighing devices in grocery stores, variety stores and hardware stores, his supervisor said, along with the random checks of "about 85,000 packages a year." Hammond said. Last three days each week and spent the other two days in the office working on consumer affairs, Hammond said.
There is no law that says the county must provide a weights and measures inspector, Hammond said. It is the State Department of Agriculture and Commerce that must provide weights and measures inspections by state law, but there are no specifications on how often the state inspections must be made. Alexandria has its own inspector and Fairfax County has two county inspectors, he noted.
Until it is decided whether Arlington County will replace Noonan, state inspectors "will be making the special checks that are required," such as checks of new filling stations before they open. Hammond said, and unscheduled spot checks of grocery stores and gas stations will "possibly be made by the state people on a temporary basis," he said.
"I think we should go forward" with replacing Noonan, Hammond said. If Arlington's weights and measures are checked solely by state inspectors "they would likely have to stretch out their personnel . . . and provide lesser numbers of inspections," he said.
If the county hired a new inspector, it would cost about $10,600 at the basic entry level, plus costs such as hospitalization, group insurance, retirement and federal employee insurance, Hammond said.
The county will probably not decide whether it can afford to provide its own weights and measures inspector until May, when the county's new budget is adopted, according to County Manager Vernon Ford.
"Any vacancy is a prime candidate to be cut" in the fiscal 1978 budget, and "routine needs" must be covered first, Ford said. "We are substituting for the state effort," by supplying a county inspector. Ford said, though he said inspections "might not get done as frequently" if hey were provided solely by the state.
It is not the first time the job of county weights and measures inspector has been threatened by the budget ax. James Noonan's widow, Eleanor, remembers when the county almost trimmed Noonan's job from the budget in 1974.
"I understand that there were a lot of telephone calls made to the county," after people heard Noonan's job would be eliminated, Mrs. Noonan said recently.
"A lot of gas station attendants complained," she said, because her husband sometimes found their pumps were not set properly and they were actually giving away gas. "He went to the County Board himself and pleaded his case, and they kept the job," she said.
Her husband, who once ordered about 600 packages of meat off the shelves of an Arlington grocery store because they were underweight, often told her he didn't run across real attempts at fraud, she said. But she read a statement by her late husband in a local newspaper that explained his philosophy of the job: "I have always felt there was some deterrent to fraud in having an inspector available to make these checks."
When asked what opportunity Arlington residents would have to help decide the fate of the job of county weights and measures inspector, the county manager said a public hearing will be held April 5, where citizens can talk about any budget issues.