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Beating the Summer School Blues

Government officials learn how to prepare for such unexpected and budget-busting events as this year’s record snowfall

You expect the people working for your local government to be in the know and up to the minute on all the issues you care about. So to get a head start in working for you, officials from Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore city go to summer school. From August 18 to 21, while you’re soaking up the last rays of summer, they’re taking classes at the Maryland Association of Counties’ Summer Conference.

“Local government officials actually go to school 24-seven, every day, as they go about the business of governing and responding to citizens’ needs and interests,” according to Ellen Clarke of Maryland Association of Counties. At the summer conference, she says, “they are seeking a higher degree of learning.”

They’re certain to need it. That’s a lesson learned on Day One of the job.

“A lot of people run for elected office because they’re really motivated by one or two things,” explains association director Michael Sanderson. They begin, for example, as big advocates for education. But it turns out they’re running a jail, doing an environmental inspection or cleaning up a ton of snow.

“County government provides the critical services we use every day and especially in times of emergencies,” Clark says.

Summer school teaches how to prepare for such unexpected and budget-busting events as this year’s record snowfall and the 2002 La Plata tornado. The next lesson: how to secure federal aid in such emergencies.

Budgeting is the top issue in hard economic times. So summer school continues with lessons on stretching dollars, combined with timely instruction on stepping away from fossil fuels. Students learn how to reduce energy costs by getting grants for solar panels or upgraded HVAC systems.

In the exhibit hall, corporations that hope to prosper in hard times offer money-saving solutions for everyday problems from road re-surfacing to building maintenance.

Almost as big a topic as the economy is public safety. This year’s summer school teaches how to enforce new laws to protect children — on one hand from predators and on the other from school bullies and gangs. Those are hot issues, stoked by tragedies in our own counties. Let’s hope officials who learn how to manage the spread of rabies can bank that knowledge rather than use it.

With the federal government about to launch a new Chesapeake Bay protection effort, officials better pay attention to lessons on Total Maximum Daily Load, the sum of nutrients and pollutants the Bay can endure. They’ll need that knowledge back at home for land use planning and in agriculture and business permitting.

Skill as well as subject fits into these summer school days.

At the summer conference’s Academy of Excellence in Governance, experts from government and professional organizations are the professors teaching the three R’s. As defined by Clarke, those are:

1. “Reading: information, requests, proposals;
2. Writing: correspondence, social media; and
3. Arithmetic: balancing the county budget, forecasting revenues, and seeking funding.”

Beachgoers come home with sand in their shoes and shells in their pockets. Our county representatives come home with new ideas and fresh perspectives, so they can’t wait to dig into their homework.