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As Long as We Remember...

July 18, 2002

Gardner Needs To Keep Her Facts Accurate

John W. Ashbury

A self-aggrandizing claim last Sunday by County Commissioner Jan Gardner brings to mind the story of Little Johnny on his first day of school. During the day the teacher asked every child to stand and tell the class what their father did for a living.

Little Johnny was a little hesitant when his name was called, but he stood, and in a strong voice, announced that his father was a stripper in a gay bar.

After class the teacher called him to her desk and said: "Johnny, I know your father isn't a stripper in a gay bar. Why did you say that?"

"Well, teacher," Little Johnny began, "I know my father isn't a stripper in a gay bar. I was too embarrassed to say that he is an accountant with Arthur Andersen."

Are we really training our children to hedge the truth even at this early age? If Commissioner Gardner is any example, perhaps that is the case.

Ms. Gardner told the audience at the Sunday forum hosted by the Frederick County Association of Realtors (FCAR), that during her term in office she was responsible for $65 million in school construction funding from the state. To add to her puffery, Ms. Gardner derided the Mark Hoke-headed board for getting only $20 million and the Ron Sundergill-headed board only $11 million.

Ms. Gardner hedged the truth and may find herself in some hot water with Del. Sue Hecht (D.,3d), who has made the same claim. But Ms. Gardner had little or nothing to do with the state providing that total of $65 million in school construction funds the past four years. The money came from the General Assembly, as recommended by Dr. Yale Stenzler and his staff.

Oh, yes, she lobbied for it through the governor's office, but in this case, the governor had little to do with how much Frederick County was allocated by Dr. Stenzler.

Ms. Gardner also is wrong in stating that the two prior boards of County Commissioners received only a total of $31 million. Figures provided by the Frederick County Board of Education staff tell an entirely different story.

From Fiscal Year 1992, the first year of the Sundergill board, through Fiscal Year 1999, the last year of the Hoke board, the county received $47 million in school construction funding.

In her effort to appear to voters as Frederick County's benefactor, Ms. Gardner failed to mention that the nation was gripped in a recession and trying to recover during Mr. Sundergill's years as county commissioners president.

For example, in Fiscal Year 1993, Governor William Donald Schaefer, now Comptroller Schaefer, recommended that only $60 million TOTAL for school construction projects be allocated statewide.

Ms. Gardner pats herself on the back for the $65 million, but she doesn't say that in Fiscal Year 2001, the state spent $290 million statewide on school construction projects, the highest amount in the state's history.

Frederick County received $16.698 million of that, or 5.7 percent of the funds allocated.

In FY 2002, the state spent $286 million on school projects, or which Frederick County got $25.79 million (the highest amount of money the county has ever received in a single year), or nine percent of the money allocated.

Despite the fact that Frederick County's school population was exploding in the mid-1990s, the county was provided only $6.9 million (of the $113 million state school construction budget) in FY96, or six percent. It got worse the next year when the county received only $4.46 million, or 3.5 percent, of the state's $127 million school construction budget.

Remember, the governor won only three jurisdictions in that '94 election and he pressured General Assembly leaders to punish the other 21 subdivisions for failing to vote for him. The FY96 budget was his first.

It is interesting that this spring Ms. Gardner was among the commissioners who chastised the Board of Education for "fudging" figures when asking the board for financial authorizations. It would seem from her performance last Sunday at the Realtors' forum that she is willing to do exactly the same thing.

It is obvious that Ms. Gardner expects no consequences from her false claims, when it was clear she was ready to punish the county's school system in May.

Perhaps the unknown Fortune 500 company she claims to have worked for when she ran for commissioner four years ago was indeed Arthur Andersen. The tactics match.

Earlier this week, Ms. Gardner made a big production of signing a "civility" pledge, stating that she would not attack her opponents personally, just their records.

She has a problem. She can't claim to be "civil" when misrepresenting her opponents' records. She can say the county received $65 million in school construction money during her term in office, and leave it at that. But, if she decides to compare it to what her predecessor boards received, she owes the public an honest comparison, not one designed to make herself look good at the expense of others.

Like Arthur Andersen got in big trouble, so, too, is Ms. Gardner flirting with the "Big T" by misrepresenting the facts on the books.

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