ANNAPOLIS -- A homeless bird winging over the manicured grounds of the governor's mansion here would think it had found a room with a view overlooking the state capital's newest tourist attraction: a $169,000 bronze fountain.
But the feathered visitor would be disappointed. A spacious birdhouse recently installed atop a 12-foot pole is not very accommodating. It has no perch. What's more, the fist-sized opening to the birdhouse is covered with clear glass.
Actually, the gray birdhouse is the nesting place for a new surveillance camera, the better for security personnel to monitor activity around the fountain.
The governor's office won't talk about the birdhouse, which was installed on the governor's lawn last month, but Annapolis is rife with rumor that the camera is aimed in a direction that would record pranksters approaching the three-tiered fountain with soap suds in mind.
"I can't comment on security matters -- real or imagined," said Paul E. Schurick, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's press secretary.
Joseph Harrison, a spokesman for the state Department of General Services, which oversees the mansion, said, "As a matter of policy, we don't comment on matters that relate to security."
Harrison did confirm that the equipment was paid for by the state, rather than private funds, but he said he did not know how much it cost. One local security systems company, however, estimated the price tag for installing one camera to an existing system at $2,000 to $3,000.
Critics of the governor relished the latest round of adverse publicity about the mansion and its grounds.
State Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, wondered why the camouflage, when other surveillance cameras are merely attached to poles or buildings.
"I think the whole thing is a turkey buzzard," Levitan said.
Schaefer's longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, has been this route before. Snoops, the unpaid official state hostess, has been criticized for spending an estimated $1.5 million in state and private funds to renovate the brick mansion and its grounds. All that for a residence that Schaefer seldom occupies.
The fountain project, which required the removal of large trees, generated more complaints about Snoops's efforts; and the days leading up to the ballyhooed fountain unveiling prompted snickers from official Annapolis.
But since the unveiling in early April, the fountain has drawn a steady stream of the curious to gawk through the iron fence that surrounds the governor's mansion grounds.
Last month, the chorus started up again when it was announced that Schaefer and Snoops planned to spend $200,000 in taxpayer money to replace windows in the upper three floors of the mansion. One longtime Schaefer critic, state Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore), dubbed the cost of the mansion renovations "astronomical."
As jokes swirled around the birdhouse venture last week, members of the governor's staff were getting testy about the ribbing.
"This game with the mansion and Hilda Mae has gone too far," said one of Schaefer's aides.
"The first several hundred times was okay, but it's gone too far now."