- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2011

Closing remarks

Maryland delegates chose to cut loose late Monday night with just minutes remaining in their 90-day legislative session.

With most of their major issues wrapped up and less than 30 minutes left before their 12:01 a.m. adjournment, proceedings devolved into a parade of thank-yous and shout-outs to guests — real and imagined.

Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, welcomed his daughter Megan to the rostrum, while delegates said hello to staffers and such esteemed visitors as Randy Watson, a fictitious character from the 1988 Eddie Murphy movie “Coming to America,” and Red Skelton alter ego Clem Kadiddlehopper — a dated reference from Washington Democrat John P. Donoghue that drew groans from throughout the 141-member chamber.

Prince George’s Democrat Jay Walker introduced a supposed former county basketball standout.

“Give a big round of applause to Mr. Marcellus Shale,” he said, referencing the Appalachian natural gas reserve located partially in Western Maryland. A House bill to restrict drilling there due to environmental concerns died this year in the Senate.

The joke got a better reception.

New business

Two weeks ago, we noted the large number of new appointees to the Metro Board of Directors. This week, there’s more evidence they may redefine business as usual at the transit agency.

Michael Barnes, who joined Metro’s Maryland delegation this month, addressed an agenda item at the board’s meeting Thursday that would allocate $4 million — less than one-half of 1 percent of Metro’s $851 million proposed fiscal 2012 budget to fund 30 new staffers.

Despite serving a decade in Congress, as a senior counsel to the prestigious Covington & Burling law firm, and on any number of boards and commissions in his career, Mr. Barnes said during Thursday’s meeting he’d “never been asked to vote on adding 30 positions before,” remarking that those were decisions a chief executive officer makes.

“I don’t know how any member on the board could know whether we need 22 more people or 33 more people,” Mr. Barnes said bluntly. “Is there some strange requirement here at Metro that the board votes on how many staff you hire? This is bizarre.”

Speaking equally candidly, Metro Chief Financial Officer Carol Dillon Kissal said she agreed, but that it’s been board practice “to approve head count within the budget.”

“It does constrain us to come extent and it contributes to a lot of the delays we have in the bureaucratic process,” she said.

The agenda item was approved, but not before Mr. Barnes — amid polite chuckles and applause from the audience of staffers — suggested the board take another look at that pattern.

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