Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) vetoed a $3.5 million school appropriation last week. In doing so, she delivered a strong rebuke to the county's school system.
Owens was upset that the money included about $625,000 for what she considered "excessive" and "improvident" salary increases for many school administrators. Matt Diehl, a county spokesman, said the raises ranged from $4,000 to $16,000 and in many cases were going to administrators who already make more than $70,000.
In a letter to Owens last week, C. Edward Middlebrooks (R-Glen Burnie), the council chairman, asked Owens to veto the measure. In an interview, he said the council felt blindsided by the raises. "It was never communicated that this was going on," he said.
"We've been trying to put money back into the classrooms," Middlebrooks said. "Then along comes these administrators, a lot of whom are making $90,000 or $100,000, and you give them off-the-chart raises. It just sends the wrong message."
Owens, too, voiced frustration with the school system, saying in a statement that the raises came about "in a manner that was not explained to the county budget officer, to the county executive or to the County Council." The appropriation was part of the county budget package the council approved earlier this year.
Owens added that she expects the school system to come up with "a more fiscally responsible proposal for the use of these revenues."
Superintendent Eric J. Smith said the school system followed "routine procedure" in the budget process and was not trying to slide anything past the county. The raises, he said, were needed to retain many of the system's "most seasoned administrators," many of whom he said could make more in the private sector or in surrounding school districts.
Of the 60 administrators who would have gotten raises, 48 "are eligible for retirement today," he said. "And recruitment is very tough."
The money for the raises was part of the $3.5 million appropriation, which would have paid for a school summer program, a program for gifted students and library materials. Owens called on the school system to submit a new proposal to fund those programs.
Up From the Deep
Ever since Hurricane Isabel tore through the region last September, the mast of a sunken ship had poked above water, a menacing addition to the Annapolis Harbor that no one bothered to remove.
But about a month ago, Greg Barnhill saw the eyesore while sailing with a friend and decided the sunken vessel needed to be lifted out of the water.
"It's still there?" he remembers thinking. The boat, named Houdini, had crashed on the rocky shore during the hurricane and rested on the bottom of the harbor ever since.
A sunken ship is not the sort of message that the City of Annapolis, one of the nation's best sailing towns, wants to encourage. It also posed an uncomfortable irony for the Naval Academy, next to which the 43-foot boat sank.
But the city said it was not responsible for taking the boat out of the water. The academy said it wasn't either. And the owner said he couldn't afford to.
So Barnhill, the chairman of the Ocean Race Chesapeake, the nonprofit group that hosts the 2006 Volvo Ocean Race, got the wheels moving. He contacted the boat's owner and had him transfer the vessel's title to Ocean Race Chesapeake, which he said would take responsibility for the boat.
Then he worked with the Naval Academy, which on Monday hoisted the dilapidated and smelly vessel out of the water as a throng, including Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, watched.
"I think everybody that's been involved is very happy to have this resolved," said Judy Campbell, a Naval Academy spokeswoman.
"This was very much a team effort," Barnhill said.
Market House Proposals
Could Dean & DeLuca be coming to downtown Annapolis? Or could the Annapolis Market House be turned into an establishment just like the District's 's Eastern Market?
Looks as though there's a good chance. A Prince George's company that helped put together the management group that runs the Eastern Market and the upscale Dean & DeLuca were the only two companies to submit proposals to take over the popular downtown eatery, said Jan Hardesty, a spokeswoman for the City of Annapolis.
A city panel is reviewing the proposals and will make a recommendation to the mayor and the City Council, which will have the final say.