Taking Office: NBT's Guide to Political Pitfalls

In our spare time here at New Bay Times, we're compiling a guide book for politicians. We don't really have much spare time, but political folly has become such a rich natural resource that we couldn't let it go to waste. We had to make hay while the sun shines.

Quite a bit of our collection has been harvested from the highest levels, but we'll save those truisms for another day. We're not about to add the straw that breaks the camel's back to the discussion of presidential imprudence. As far as we're concerned, prudence, like charity, should begin at home - where a whole crop of newly elected officials are sliding closer to the slippery slope.

Our wisdom for them: The road starts rocky and stays that way.

You'd think every pol with the wit to learn by example would have fathomed that truth by now. Certainly they've had plenty of examples to consider at every level of government. At the beginning of Bill Clinton's term back in 1993, he frittered away his political capital by blundering on gay-rights policies and making - then taking back - politically shaky appointments. Of course his troubles have mounted since then.

Back in 1995, newly elected Gov. Parris Glendening stumbled, too, when he signed on to a pension sweetener for himself and pals. Like a badly healed stubbed toe, that mistake continued to pain him for four years.

The road's rocky all the way to its end. In Washington, a Congress spinning out of office - and control - is about to leave a legacy of regret for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Right here at home, we can see the same kind of stumbling all around.

In North Beach, brand-new Mayor Mark Frazer has already been hit with a lawsuit after his new broom tried to sweep out a popular county official with ties to the old regime.

Wasn't anybody listening when their mothers said 'Act in haste, repent at leisure'?

In Anne Arundel County, ex-county executive John Gary ended his term in office handing out $838,000 in bonuses to 547 select county employees. Gary explained the bonus system as his way of rewarding merit when he installed it a few years back in place of across-the-board raises to all county workers. We may agree or disagree with the wisdom of a bonus system, but we can't help but think something's fishy when the county employee who gets one of the biggest bonuses is Gary's wife, Ruthanne.

Don't the pols think anybody is looking?

New executive Janet Owens - who campaigned on openness in government - could trip on this one, too. If she doesn't watch where she puts her feet, she could stumble over the legal booby trap concealing the identities of the county's best - or luckiest - 547. Can county personnel officer E. Hilton Wade really believe he can end the issue by claiming that, since bonuses aren't salaries, the public can't know who got what?

After what's happened in Washington this year, can anybody really believe trouble will just go away?

If you still believe ignorance is bliss, you better get on the mailing list for our new book.

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VolumeVI Number 50
December 17-23, 1998
New Bay Times

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