Volume 15, Issue 3 ~ January 18 - January 24, 2007


Prove It Isn’t So, Executive Leopold

What’s the difference between Gov. Robert Ehrlich abolishing the office of Smart Growth and Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold abolishing the county’s Land Use and Environment office?

We don’t know, but we’re worried about the similarities.

Four years ago, environmental advocates raised a fuss when Ehrlich stripped the office of Smart Growth, defending the change by saying that its functions and staffs would be dispersed through other state offices.

Critics were right to worry. Over the past four years, smart growth stayed on the back burner if it was cooking at all.

We speculated at the time that Ehrlich’s motivation had to do with philosophy rather than efficiency. Like other skeptics, we were right.

Ehrlich, like many in his party, was slow to embrace environmental issues, and having a state office with the mission of mucking around in the business of developers was not appealing.

(By contrast, look at the success of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican re-elected in November after stressing climate change and the connection between the environment and quality living.)

Over the last four years in Maryland, the issue of unwise growth has exploded in Anne Arundel County. The simmering pot could well boil over under military base realignment as Fort Meade brings in 8,000 to 10,000 more people in coming years.

Leopold says he’s scrapping the county’s land-use planning office to save money, supposedly $700,000 a year. Its staff and divisions are disbursed among the Department of Public Works, the Department of Inspections and Permits and the Office of Planning and Zoning.

“This is one more example of how I can make county government more efficient and meet my commitment for providing essential services at less cost,” Leopold explained in making the announcement.

Saving tax dollars is a good thing. But given Leopold’s campaign promises, we expected him to put growth at or near the top of his list of priorities.

Good as Leopold’s fiscal intentions may be, he’s sending troubling signals. A value that doesn’t have a name and a home to call its own looks like an orphan to us.

Prove to us, Mr. Leopold, that it isn’t so.

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