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February 11, 2010

Kudos for a Job Well Done

Chris Cavey

It’s early Wednesday morning. The snowfall is just a constant fine white sparkle, the bare limbs of the maple tree are piled so high with the accumulation of previous storms that the new snow skiffs off like dust.


As I stare out my window at this winter masterpiece, worthy of framing, my thoughts are brought back to reality by the low rumbling scrap of an oncoming snowplow.


While Maryland’s many snow days this past week are a break from the day-to-day grind, they are a true test of viability of both the state and local government’s public works programs and preparedness. A goofy thought to have on a beautiful snowy day.


Public works is where tax dollars are on display. Most of us take roads, bridges, garbage pick-up, and such, for granted. We only notice these benign functions of government when there is a problem, or when we are personally slowed down and impacted in our daily routine.


Someone wrote that public works is “a concept in economics and politics.” I’ve also read that many public works projects are “prone to corrupt practices in the form of waste, crony contracts and theft of funds and materials.” None-the-less, today, as we experience phase two of the “Mack-Daddy” of all Maryland snow storms, it means only one thing – snow removal.


Giving credit where credit is due, the Maryland Department of Transportation was not asleep at the switch with this storm. The snow emergency route in front of my house has been passable all but a few hours during the series of storms. A surprising accomplishment considering the fact that rural Baltimore County is rarely a priority for any public works dollars.


Kudos must also be given to the Town of Hampstead for its diligence in battling “Snowzilla.” Prior to this second wave of snowfall, it had the roads cleaned down into the neighborhoods and the forethought to pile the snow out of the way in preparation for Round Two. All of this impressively accomplished by a Republican mayor and a proportionally small crew of public works employees.


However, not all is in balance with the concept of economics and politics. My home county appears to be a little askew. Reports in Baltimore County are that northwest neighborhoods are clean curb to curb while the balance of the county’s streets are labeled passable, at best.


Is it a coincidence that my friends in Catonsville, or in Upperco, are not prioritized to the same extent as voters living in Legislative District 7? Is this where the “politics” of public works comes into play? Could it be that a good show is needed to convince voters that county executives can be future state senators? Or is it just the random chance of poor overall snow removal and limited planning?


Snow removal is a great test of planning and budgeting, as are all the unknowns that nature throws at man. Growing up on my uncle’s farm, I learned many things about weather and planning for winter. The cows were always milked and fed. The giant tractor-trailer with the big stainless steel tank always came to pick up the milk.


Many times my cousins and I dug out – and plowed for hours – the farm lane and up the county road to make sure. In hindsight it was a lesson on the “economic portion” of public works – from a farm perspective. If the milk was not shipped, it would have to be dumped sending dollars down the drain. So we dug and worked hard to clear a path.


The politics and cronyism of public works is certainly alive and well in Baltimore County. A former county councilman told me once he was embarrassed when the county trucks came into his neighborhood first and plowed for him a path to Towson. He told them never to do that again.


I have a county contractor insured who plows snow for Baltimore County. He feels the need to purchase all the fundraiser tickets that are sent to him during the course of the year. He says it is “an investment.” He also intentionally re-registered as a Democrat before he submitted his first bid…”just in case someone checked.”


Too bad the single party politics of Baltimore County gets in the way of sound judgment when it comes to public works. Too bad the county executive and council didn’t each work milking cows twice a day. Perhaps they would have learned about planning and the weather. (Note: One current councilman is a farmer and I feel sure he understands.)


This past week many men and women have been working hard to keep Maryland moving: emergency services personnel, MDOT employees, and many others. My column, however, is dedicated to those who have lived in their trucks and loaders these past several days plowing the miles of snow-covered roads and streets. You understand, work hard, sacrifice family time and deserve all the overtime pay you have earned.


Thank you for your service.


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