Friday, December 08, 2006

Leopold Moves Quickly to Action on Firefighters and Environmental Protection

Having been in office less than a full week, County Executive John Leopold is acting quickly to address some of the laxities that dogged the final days of the Owens' administration. First, Leopold tackled the issue of new firefighters skipping out of the re-payment of their training fees. Recruits who leave the department within 5 years of training are contractually bound to repay the training costs.

Under Owens, Acting-Personnel Officer John O'Conner and Fire Chief Ronald Blackwell asserted that such repayment could hurt future recruiting. Frankly, to have required repayment in the contracts, and Department Directors expressing these views is preposterous. Requiring repayment makes sense. Why should Anne Arundel County train firefighters for other jurisdictions? Perhaps one solution is for the Department to hold back $2,000 of salary for each of the first five years of tenure at the Department, releasing it in $2,000 increments at the end of each year, basically like a bond, rather than having to track down and re-coup the money from truants.

The recruitment and attrition problems at the Fire Department seem to go much deeper than this though. It's my sense that this Department is truly broken. There is often tension between the volunteers and career firefighters, there are horrendous problems with overtime, and the County has an attrition rate of 20 percent (compared to Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George's rates of 9 to 16 percent). Surely housing cost is an issue, but it's no cheaper to live in any of those jurisdictions. It's important for the public safety and the public coffers that Mr. Leopold and his new chief get a handle on this, soon.

Shortly after the Board of Appeals decision on the Little Dobbins Island home, Mr. Leopold signed an executive order showing his commitment to cracking down on environmental violators. His order states that violations "such as polluting waters with soil or sediment, grading or disturbing land without sediment controls, and developing without a stormwater management plan" will be sent to the Maryland attorney general for prosecution. Leopold offered, "My administration will not tolerate construction activity in the Critical Area without the required permits. Violation of the environmental laws will trigger immediate action by this administration."

For those of us focused on environmental conservation, Mr. Leopold also uttered some very important words: "[The land is not a mere commodity.] In fact, it is something to which we all belong. We are only stewards of the natural resources and we need to leave the land, if we can, in better shape for future generations."

Let's hope they are words by which his administration will live.

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