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County should handle its own problems first

January 14, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary


At the very least, you have to admire the self-confidence of the Washington County Commissioners. They believe they are doing their own job so perfectly that now they can run the Board of Education. And of course, for the past six months or so they've been trying to run the City of Hagerstown, filing a lawsuit against every city decision they don't like.

Two county commissioners, Bill Wivell and John Munson, say they want to pay a consultant for a top-to-bottom audit of the public school system, which sounds to me suspiciously like laying the groundwork for taking funding away from your school kids.

For anyone who hasn't caught on to the consultant game after all these years, the way it works is that the consultant, for an exorbitant fee, tells you what you want to hear.

Want a new stadium? There are about a million consultants out there who will happily take your money and tell you that a new stadium is desperately needed.

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Don't want a new stadium? There about a million consultants out there who will happily take your money and tell you that a new stadium is desperately not needed. And they are the SAME CONSULTANTS.

So if you want to lowball the kids' education, just hire a consultant and "mention in passing" that you believe there to be a few areas where the school system could make do with less. The consultant will come back with about $20 million worth of cuts and the next year you'll find your kids' calculators have been traded in for surplus casino chips.

It's lovely that Wivell and J-Mun care so deeply about the school system, but isn't there a little something in the Good Book about getting rid of the plank in your own eye before going after someone else's speck?

After all, this is the same commission that still has $47 million in unpaid sewer tabs; that annually overlooks a growing fire and rescue funding/personnel crisis; is doggedly suing the city over problems that are largely the county's making; has its own workers up in arms over yet another consultant salary study that rank-and-file employees believe will primarily benefit those at the top, and has a mishmash of land-use policies that makes a Calvin and Hobbes scheme look coherent.

You might think Wivell and J-Mun would want to tidy up at least one or two of their own messes before they go stampeding off to tell the city and school board how to conduct their business.

In fact, you can easily argue that the last people you want running anything more sophisticated than a beginner ant farm would be the people for whom "consultant study" is the answer to every question.

Thankfully, Commissioners President Greg Snook, bless him, said it might be a good idea to at least find out how much a school board audit would cost before buying into the adventure. Apparently, that was no concern to Wivell or Munson.

Ever notice that the politicians who talk the loudest about protecting your tax dollars are often the ones who are the quickest to spend them?

The upside of all this is that a County Commissioner-imposed probe of the school board likely will induce an all-out war between the two governments. That would be great for all of us anarchists (I would call myself a libertarian, except that I don't carry all that libertarian baggage that comes with having conscience in one's convictions) who believe that as long as governments are busy oppressing each other, they have less time and energy to oppress the people.

A school board war would give the County Commissioners a war on two fronts, since it's already heatedly fighting the city. And it's probably only a matter of time until the county comes to blows with the local legislative delegation, probably over growth taxes or the commuter airline subsidy or any other number of things that can go wonderfully and horribly wrong.

Ah, 2003 is shaping up to be a beautiful year. I don't need a consultant study to tell me that.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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