When critics flip through the glossy 96-page booklet that James Lighthizer commissioned to sum up his eight years as Anne Arundel County executive, they just flip out. And it's not just the $120,000-plus public expenditure they're reacting to. It's the content.
"Shameless self-aggrandizement," said Stuart G. Morris, a civic activist and longtime Lighthizer critic.
"The Bonfire of Lighthizer's Vanities," quipped an editorial cartoonist for the Annapolis Capital.
"I would not trust Lighthizer with a piggy bank," thundered letter writer Gerald Sakats in the Capital.
The blowup over the booklet has brought out a swarm of Lighthizer's old county nemeses, tax rebels and civic activists, at a particularly embarrassing time: just as he seeking legislative confirmation for his new job as secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Lighthizer, often mentioned as a possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1994, defends the book as "a solid term-end report . . . analogous to the year-end report of a corporation." And to those who contend that he should reimburse the county from his own pocket and be found guilty of improprieties by the county solicitor, he replies: "Nonsense."
Still, even Lighthizer says that the first few pages of "The Lightizer Years -- 1982-1990: Achievement Through Strategic Planning" are "bull and puffery."
"Destiny is not something to be waited for, it is something to be achieved," press coordinator Denise Rankin wrote in the introduction.
A kind of bureaucratic stroll down institutional memory lane, "The Lighthizer Years" is mostly a department-by-department review of programs established, parks built, forklift derbies held. What disturbs its critics, however, are the report's repeated references to Lighthizer, the detailed Lighthizer biography and the long list of his awards and honors, including such items as a 1985 recognition from Save Our Streams "for achievement in sediment control."
"In 1986, at the age of 40," Rankin wrote, "he was resoundingly reelected, and served with vigor and devotion."
Had he supervised the project more closely, Lighthizer said, he would have objected to the first few pages that focus so much on him. "In her zeal to hype her boss," he said, "Denise went a little overboard." He said that he approved the project generally but did not see the final draft before it went to the printer. Rankin could not be reached for comment.
That zeal comes through not only in the county-government-for-the-ages prose, but also in the pictures. One shot has Lighthizer standing in a lake, a stalk of marshgrass dangling from his mouth, his hands hooked into the waist of his waders as he squints off into the distance. The intended effect seems to be a kind of Huck Finn, Bartles & James folksiness.
Had the booklet been commissioned during the current recession, instead of a year ago, Lighthizer said, it "would have been printed on recycled paper in black and white."
Although the County Council approved funds a year ago for the report, none of its members seems willing to defend it. Council member David G. Boschert (D-Crownsville) denounced it as "nothing more than a legacy to a politician" and vowed to watch for such expenditures and to weed them out in the future.
But members of the Senate's Executive Nominations Committee, which endorsed Lighthizer's nomination for the Cabinet position, said "The Lighthizer Years" has been blown out of proportion by its critics.
"Show me someone who hasn't made a mistake, and I'll show you someone who has died," said Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel), who argued that Lighthizer turned the county around and left it with a $50 million surplus.
Lighthizer is expected to have no trouble winning confirmation from the full Senate when it votes on his $105,215-a-year position. And observers doubt that the county solicitor, who is investigating at the council's request, will find any serious transgressions.
Meanwhile, it is still unclear what exactly happened to the 25,000 copies of "The Lighthizer Years." Some were given to libraries, about 4,000 were mailed to business and civic leaders and 4,000 went to county employees, according to Raymond Dearchs, assistant county auditor.
Apparently, about 400 copies were thrown away, Dearchs said, because there were no stamps for them "and the postage budget was maxed out."
That leaves 6,000 copies, which Dearchs said went to the Board of Education. Not so, said school spokeswoman Nancy Jane Adams.
"We responded with a polite 'No, thank you.' "