Comptroller Peter Franchot joins roundtable lunch in Hurlock

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Senator Addie Eckardt, members of the Hurlock police force, Chief Hutton, Peter Franchot, Mayor Joyce Spratt and Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes met for a roundtable lunch in Hurlock town hall. Mr. Franchot presented a plaque to Chief Les Hutton.

HURLOCK – Eastern Shore residents have come to expect frankness and honesty from State Comptroller Peter Franchot. He did not disappoint during a June 12 roundtable luncheon in Hurlock with state and local officials plus an assortment of invitees. The Comptroller is not known for mincing words and his straightforward comments on a wide variety of fiscal issues was appreciated by the 30 guests.

Mr. Franchot heaped praise on the Hurlock Police Department and gave gold “Comptroller Medallions” to Chief Les Hutton and his officers. “I shamelessly copied Louis Goldstein, my great predecessor, who gave out gold coins. I give them to Marylanders who have made a difference.”

In an effort to recognize the courage and bravery of the men and women who serve us in law enforcement,” Mr. Franchot presented Maryland safety medallions to Chief Hutton and five Hurlock police officers who attended the event for their professionalism, bravery, and courage.

In giving a plaque to Hurlock Mayor Joyce Spratt, Mr. Franchot noted, “This is with heartfelt thanks to someone who really makes a difference in the State of Maryland.

A plaque for Chief Hutton recognized “a lifetime of honorable and effective leadership in law enforcement.” Mayor Spratt agreed, saying “He is the best thing that ever happened to Hurlock. I lay my head on the pillow every night and know our police department is taking care of us.” As the chief wiped away tears, the Mayor explained, “Les just said he wished that Joanne was here to share this.” Chief Hutton’s wife Joanne passed away last month after a brief battle with cancer.

Mrs. Spratt suggested the comptroller return when a new police department is completed.

“We plan to turn the old police department into a train museum” and to show Hurlock’s history. Chief Hutton added, “We designed it to look like a train station to go with the look of the town and our symbol.”

In a style that fits well with newly-elected Gov. Hogan, Mr. Franchot said “now I’ve got a new friend on the Board (of Public Works).” When former Gov. Martin O’Malley sat with State Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Mr. Franchot on the board the comptroller was frequently outvoted on projects that he considered either inflated or unnecessary.

His opinion of slashing highway user funds was blunt. “The hijacking of the highway user money,” which was federal money for local jurisdictions, “was probably the single worst act by the legislature. I applaud Gov. Hogan for trying to reverse that but he is facing a lot of stiff resistance.”

The Comptroller’s Chief Of Staff, Len Foxwell, pointed out the difficulty of repairing and replacing infrastructure with drastically reduced highway funds. “I think when we visited Hurlock in August 2010 the highway user receipts had diminished to $12,000. We saw roads we couldn’t even afford to cold patch and the town’s infrastructure was suffering.” He asked if the “gradual uptick” in highway revenue has helped the distressed infrastructure.

Mayor Spratt noted the town has not had the resources but funds are now available for water main replacement on part of Main Street. Town Administrator John Avery manages the project and now “we’re pretty close,” she said. Loss of highway user money hit the town “all at once,” said the Mayor.

Energy savings of $250,000 over five years are projected when the large solar project at the wastewater treatment plant goes on-line in two weeks.

The wide-ranging discussion turned to funding which, Chief Hutton believes, does not give small police departments their “fair share” while larger county departments are “fully funded.” When he requested 10 new laptops to replace 10 aging ones he was offered two. “I wish they would take us into consideration because we are the bulk of departments.” New computers are mandated and “right away we’re behind the eight ball and struggling to meet the mandate.” He explained that the same problem is occurring with body cameras. He believes the cameras, already in use in Hurlock, will be a standard piece of equipment for police officers.

The massive telecommunications network designed to link public, city, state, public safety agencies in Maryland still looms on the horizon. Mr. Foxwell explained, “Four years ago the state entered into a $485,000,000 contract with Motorola to establish and provide the infrastructure, equipment, and back end support services for the network. He asked if Hurlock is part of the program.

Chief Hutton responded, “We would love to be but again we’re such a small entity a lot of times we don’t even receive that information.” Mr. Foxwell asked if Hurlock cannot invest in the new 700 series of equipment “can you communicate with the rest of the players in the state-wide network?”
Chief Hutton responded, “If we get left out, no. I’ve talked with (County Council President Ricky) Travers about that because they’re very expensive. A portable radio is about $3,800 just for the radio without all the other support services. Other emergency services, like the Hurlock Fire Company, need to communicate with the police department and “they’re also behind the eight ball. The big boys grab their piece of the pie.”

“That is one of the most bloated pigs in a poke that the state has ever gotten involved in,” replied Mr. Franchot. The contractor, Motorola, asked for an additional $20 million that the comptroller said is “completely unnecessary on top of the $485 million. “I said ‘no’ we’re not giving you that extra $20 million. In fact I’d like to get some of that money back. All the agencies get wined and dined and romanced and they think it’s terrific. Motorola “not only builds the system they sell all the equipment and it’s not cheap.”

Chief Hutton noted that if the old radios break they cannot be repaired; only replaced. According to Mr. Franchot, “We’re getting bamboozled up there every time we turn around with these big contracts. It would completely change the fiscal picture if we could get some discipline up there.” At that point he asked to borrow Mr. Avery for a little while to instill some fiscal responsibility. That request was laughingly denied.

Adding salt to the wound, noted the comptroller, Annapolis based Arinc, a national supplier of radio systems, bid a lower price but was rejected “when Motorola came in.” He added, “There was just no John Avery type of oversight. He noted the culture is changing and the state will benefit from a tighter approach over the next 20 years. Mr. Franchot added, “The state has an extraordinarily amount of wealth in it. It’s not all distributed uniformly.” He is optimistic that at the end of the year the state will be improved as a place for private sector investment.” From his lips….

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