Volume XI, Issue 50 ~ December 11-17, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

In the Spirit of Giving …
Let’s All Take the Credit But Not Pay the Bill

I fear Greeks even when they bring gifts.
— Virgil, 70 to 19bc

Virgil, times have changed over the past 20 centuries. Long gone are the days when to be feared are Greeks bearing gifts; that went out with the episode of the Trojan Horse following the siege of Troy.

Nowadays, it’s beware of politicians bearing gifts — or even holiday cards. You see, in the end, the recipients get stuck not only paying for Christmas greetings that come in the mail but also for mailing them. Even the Grinch wouldn’t do such a dastardly deed, but we are talking about Anne Arundel County.

Beware of Politicians Bearing Gifts
This was the way things went last year, but we’re just finding out now — and seeing that quite a fuss has been stirred up, it will be interesting to see who, if anybody, gets a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year message this holiday from the likes of County Executive Janet Owens, Sheriff George Johnson and Fire Chief Roger Simonds. Will they dig into their own pockets?

Our county executive and chief firefighter were content to just send cards via funds originating from taxpayers, but our own Wyatt Earp is said to have bought a hundred commemorative pocket knives in addition to a batch of cards and stamps.

Christmas is a time for greetings and presents, but methinks there’s something a bit out of whack when it boils down to the recipients footing the bill. That’s bad enough, but it gets a bit more bizarre when those of us who don’t get either holiday salutations or gifts (unbeknownst to us) also antee up to pay the bill.

Hey, and we don’t even get recognition. I haven’t seen any of the cards — and I didn’t get a pocket knife — but I’ll bet my last dollar that the name Bill Burton wasn’t on the cards or gifts below that of Owens, Johnson or Simonds. I’d bet your name wasn’t there, either.

I’m wondering how those who received greetings or knives feel now that they know they helped pay the bill for their goodies. It’s something akin to a young child asking a parent for moola to buy a gift for that very same parent, but with a kid it can be understood. It’s a different story with someone old enough to run for office or head a county department.

I’d say those who dip into the county’s till to buy gifts or send Yule tidings have either a discombobulated idea of what Christmas is all about or they know they have a good thing going — or both. I’d also say that you and I are helping them get reelected or reappointed — even if we’d rather see someone else in their office — seeing that we’re paying the bill to help them embellish their name and image.

Small wonder why when election time rolls around that, barring scandals, incumbents win reelection. They get all the press all the time. Thus the citizenry knows their names. They send out the cards and the gifts that we pay for, but with their John Hancock added. And they have a bit of, shall we say, leverage. The poor challenger doesn’t, and also has to pay for exposure.

We’re told some restitution is being made or already has been made now that county auditor Teresa Sutherland has played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in this scenario. Her bah-humbug has gotten more than a bit of attention.

It’s particularly annoying to learn that Ms. Owens stretched the Christmas spirit a bit to add the names of her husband and two sons to her cards — and then used her home as a return address on the envelopes. Things like this, I dare say, will hasten the day that that’s the only address she’ll have.

All of this comes when the county is mired in such a financial pickle that employee raises are being contested, funding for programs is being cut, there’s talk of new taxes and levies, and we’re all biting many a bullet.

To my way of figuring, the tab we’re paying for the generosity of Owens, Simonds and Johnson is $3,676.04. By county budgetary standards, admittedly, it isn’t much, but it would pay for a few new police patrol car radios, some supplies for schools or plowing more than a few streets promptly next time Old Man Winter lets fly more snow from the skies.

Also, we can’t bring ourselves to think 2002 was the only time such shenanigans occurred. Are we to believe the three officials paid for their cards and gifts in 2001 and 2000 out of their own purses, then got the idea of billing us only last year? Or that they are the only ones within officialdom to do so? Next time the County Council gets together, would it not be fitting that its membership request Ms. Sutherland dig deeper and a little farther back?

Who knows? We might get enough additional reimbursement to buy more police radios, supplies for schools and plow more streets while also teaching a needed lesson concerning the difference between public and personal funds in playing jolly old St. Nick.

In the Spirit of Giving
While on gifts and giving, ’tis long been said in the true spirit that it’s more satisfying to give than to receive. So let’s draw up a list of appropriate presents that Santa might put under some holiday trees this year. We’ll play like the county executive, sheriff and fire chief: Take the credit though not pay the bill.

To Ravens coach Brian Billick: How about a few cakes of tangy soap to wash his mouth out should he decide to use any more X-rated words to the public and media when things don’t go as he’d like on the gridiron. Role models for youngsters should set better examples. A few drums of paint would also be appropriate so the club’s ownership can paint the stadium anything but that hideous eyesore-purple that greets visitors entering the city from the south.

To skippers of boats on the Chesapeake, please Santa: How about true and efficient self-contained heads to help lessen nitrogen nutrient contamination of our Bay waters. It’s time those on the Chesapeake do their bit to lessen incidences of Dead Zones that suffocate crabs and fish in pots and nets and force finfish to flee more traditional areas. Let’s hear no more of that old malarkey: I’ll go along with it once geese, ducks, gulls and other water birds are diapered.

For Maryland Department of Natural Resources: A bundle of cash in the stocking is badly needed seeing that for the umpteenth time its budget has been cut. There is no room for any more cutbacks, not if badly needed Bay restoration and enhancement programs are to be carried out. If hunters and fishermen knew the extent of budgetary curtailments, for them the holiday season wouldn’t be one of merriment.

To the Salvation Army: A clapper for all the bells that have been silenced in the malls for some curious reason. A bell that rings not only draws attention to the opportunity to give to the needy, but it’s the traditional sound of the season. Shame on those who deprive us of those sounds of yore.

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Last updated December 11, 2003 @ 1:08am.