July 18, 2018
Politics & Opinion
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On The Road Again

Peter Franchot
Peter Franchot's picture
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October 4, 2017

When I became comptroller in 2007, I told my staff I didn’t want to be confined to my desk in Annapolis.

I’ve always believed that elected officials need to be accessible to the people they serve, which is why I get out of my office as often as possible to take the pulse of Maryland’s economy. I get the numbers regularly, but seeing it firsthand and talking to families and businesses is an affirmation of what the data says, while providing an up-close look at where the greatest needs are.

So, I set out to visit all corners of our state, from the rolling hills in Western Maryland to the farmland on the Eastern Shore, touring schools, parks, businesses and more.

It is, hands down, the best part of my job. I’d like to share some highlights of a few recent visits.

In August, I stopped by Club Sunset Knoll in Pasadena, owned by 94-year-old Irv Koch. It is believed to be the last “basement bar” located in a private home in Maryland. This beloved hangout has served local patrons for 54 years.

If you’ve ever been, you know that Irv and his bar are truly one-of-a-kind. And I’m not just talking about the eclectic décor that Irv has accumulated over a half-century. There’s a jukebox, a pool table and a disco ball that you might find in any corner bar, but because the club’s license predates local zoning, fire safety and health codes, there’s nothing quite like Irv’s basement bar.

My office sits a few blocks from Historic Annapolis’ shopping district. For my money, it’s one of the best places to shop and eat in the entire state. I could spend a whole day checking out the many boutiques, gift shops and restaurants.

Toward the bottom of Main Street sits Local by Design, a unique business that showcases more than 60 local artisans and craftmakers. The first thing that struck me as I walked through the store – it’s deceivingly large, as it extends pretty far back and has three separate floors – is the quality and diversity of the products. There’s loads of jewelry, artwork, clothing, furniture, home décor and all kinds of knickknacks. It’s been open only since May 2016, but owners Suzi Jett and Susan Sears tell me that the response has been amazing and it’s a sign that people want to buy local, which is music to my ears.

Halloween is just a few weeks away and chances are you might find Caramel Creams or Cow Tales in your kids’ trick-or-treat bags. They’re produced by Goetze’s Candy, a 122-year-old, fifth-generation, family-owned company located in a nondescript building in East Baltimore.

I had a chance recently to visit their headquarters to thank COO Mitchell Goetze and his father Spaulding Goetze for employing hundreds of people and engaging in numerous charitable endeavors. (I may also have snagged a few treats during the tour to satisfy my sweet tooth.)

A mile away sits one of the newest schools in the state. Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle School was the first building opened as part of the 21st Century School Buildings Program, a $1.1 billion partnership between the city government and school system, the State of Maryland and the Maryland Stadium Authority to modernize at least two dozen city schools that suffer from unreliable heating and cooling systems, unsafe drinking water and antiquated amenities.

The new energy-efficient and technologically-advanced facility is impressive by any measure, giving both students and teachers a better chance to thrive and reach their full potential.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Dulaney High School in Baltimore County. The lack of air conditioning in half the school was noticeable on the sweltering day I was there. I also saw a crumbling foundation, discolored drinking water, flood damage from burst pipes and the stadium that is off limits because of an electric current found to be running through the fence, due to a damaged underground cable. It’s disgraceful, and I’ll be making a replacement Dulaney High School a priority in this year’s school construction appeals hearings, which begins this month.

I sit on the Board of Public Works, which oversees school maintenance and approves school construction requests for each jurisdiction. That’s why it’s important for me to see for myself what challenges schools face and how the state can help.

These visits afford me the opportunity to hear from working-class Marylanders directly – my true bosses – and the perspectives and insights that I learn guide my views as comptroller, be it advocating for fiscal moderation, demanding better conditions for schools or urging investment for certain projects. Hope to see you on the trail soon!

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