Despite a budget squeeze that has caused Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer to refuse pay raises for the county's employes, the county reported today that it has spent $28,000 redecorating Lighthizer's suite and other executive offices at the Arundel Center here.
Lighthizer dismissed as "petty" criticism of the project. "If I was being extravagant, that's one thing. I don't think that office could have been done any cheaper than it was. We wanted to create a more professional environment that would encourage people to work," he said.
Lighthizer's top aide, Robert Agee, who helped design the changes, said, "What I absolutely reject is that good taste and pleasant visual appearance equates with extravagance. Up here, we had the offices of a B-grade motel. It has got to look and be a professional place."
But a member of the County Council, who asked to be anonymous, said, "It smacks of Marie Antoinette. It just looks bad. It's very imperial."
U.S. Rep. Marjorie S. Holt (R-Md.), who said she has been trying to meet with Lighthizer to discuss federal revenue sharing, took a jab at him in a letter to the editor of the Capital in Annapolis, saying she was "eager to see his newly redecorated office."
Faced with a deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, Lighthizer at one point cut off the building's air conditioning. In late July, in a move to save $195,000, he announced that he was ordering 104 county employes to turn in their take-home cars. And citing a need for "fiscal restraint," he turned down a request for a 4.5 percent pay raise for county employes that would have cost about $2 million.
About the same time, Lighthizer approved changes throughout the 14-year-old Arundel Center: walls were rearranged; the Office of Personnel was gutted and rebuilt to give each staff member an individual office; the manpower office, which channels funds for job-training, was expanded, and the Office of Law was rearranged to make room for a new computer.
Most of the spending, $22,129, fixed up offices other than Lighthizer's, according to expense vouchers.
County funds paid for renovating fourth-floor offices for Lighthizer, the director of administration and his assistant, five aides, three secretaries, a receptionist and a press-conference room, as well as installing a kitchen.
But it is the executive's suite that has drawn the interest and criticism. During budget hearings in May, County Auditor Joseph Novotny lashed out at Lighthizer for fixing up his own office at a time when the county was skimping to cut its first deficit ever.
The work on Lighthizer's personal office cost about $5,400, said J. Michael Evans, director of central services for the county. That included $1,200 for material for new draperies and curtains, which were made for the Democrat by Republican State Del. John Gary at no cost. The old ones reportedly were full of holes.
When Robert Pascal, Lighthizer's predecessor, was county executive, his office was carpeted in baby-blue shag with dark paneling, institutional furniture and a painting of John Wayne.
Lighthizer removed the worn shag and paneling and Pascal took the painting, a credenza and desk. Two of the walls were painted off-white and another two covered in grasscloth, and forest green and beige carpet was installed throughout. A credenza, a green loveseat and four Queen Anne sidechairs were newly purchased by the county, aides said. Lighthizer brought his own desk and four chairs. CAPTION: Picture, The newly refurbished office of Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer cost taxpayers just over $5,000. By Harry Naltchayan -- The Washington Post