For the second time in less than three years, Worcester County has lost its economic development director.
Back in September 2015, Bill Badger resigned after four years on the job, saying county government was not supportive and he “realized that wasn’t going to change.” He said the commissioners did back his office and his efforts but the internal staff was preventing him from moving forward on several of his key initiatives.
After Badger’s resignation, his deputy director, Merry Mears, was promoted in a move lauded as obvious. Mears, by most accounts, did a fine job but it’s clear there were obstacles in her way on several efforts, most notably being the concept of a sports complex in northern Worcester County and a proposed excursion train operation between Snow Hill and Berlin.
While the proposed sports complex remains an active issue, despite at least two short-sighted commissioners wanting the idea dropped, Mears and her office devoted a lot of time to evaluating the excursion train operation.
In an interview in the fall of 2015 after becoming director, Mears was optimistic, saying, “It’s a big opportunity, and the next steps are gathering the railroad, the towns, and any potential non-profits who want to come together and see where we want to go with this. If there is interest in fixing the tracks for passenger instead of freight travel, and the money that is involved in that, all those discussions need to be had to see where we go with this.”
Evidently, after researching similar operations elsewhere and exploring the funding necessary, the support was not there. Mears said this week the excursion train concept appears dead at this time as far as the county was concerned.
“I don’t see that project as something viable for a government entity,” she said. “The price tag is just too high.”
While that’s disappointing to hear, Mears’ decision to leave her post for a private sector job raises questions about the future of this economic development department. Losing two talented and focused department heads in less than three years clearly shows there’s something amiss. In Badger’s case, he aired out his concerns. While Mears said all the right things this week in maintaining the high road, I believe there’s much more to the story here.
This department is not getting the support it needs to function in a successful way. Whether the issues arise at the County Commission or at the staff level is the question.
What Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had to say about the nightmare unfolding within Baltimore City Public Schools was right on the money.
Last month photos of students sitting in Baltimore City classrooms with jackets, gloves and hats on to stay warm due to malfunctioning heating systems within schools circulated widely. Many schools were forced to shut down during the cold snap because of the current situation, resulting in a bevy of awkward questions being posed to school board officials as well as the city’s elected officials.
Hogan clearly was disgusted by what he saw and the perception he holds about Baltimore City not making the best of the substantial state funding it receives. Hogan took to Facebook to express his outrage at the situation and his annoyance over funds being misappropriate in his opinion.
In general, Hogan’s remarks about the burden upper administration positions – many of which I would argue could easily be phased out upon retirements – apply to many school systems across the state.
“Unfortunately, there are people playing politics – some who are continually disseminating false information – rather than focusing on our kids,” Hogan wrote in a Facebook post this week. “Facts are stubborn things, and here is a fact: Last year, our state investment into the Baltimore City school system was three-and-a-half times more than the state average. In Fiscal Year 2018, Baltimore City received more than $12,000 per student in per-pupil aid from the state. However, Baltimore City schools spend more on administrative costs (over $1,600 per student) than any other school system in America. This is money that never makes it to the classrooms and never makes it to our kids. When it comes to the problems in our local school systems, it’s not a funding issue – it’s an accountability and management and competency issue. But, we simply cannot allow these children to be punished year after year because their adult leaders are failing.”