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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 125   View pdf image (33K)
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124 Board of Public Works

worked well together in a cohesive and constructive manner. As an institution the
board has managed to earn and retain the confidence of the General Assembly, which
has heaped more and more responsibility on it.

One effect, not often recognized, of placing jurisdiction in the board rather than
in the governor alone (or in some other executive official) is to open up the decision-
making process to public scrutiny. Decisions made by single officials may have to be
explained later, but the process by which they are made is often shielded from public
view. That is not the case with the board. Even before the organized drive for "open
government" in the 1970s, board meetings were announced in advance and were open
to the press. The effect of this accessibility has generally been salutary. Governor
Mandel once observed:

The press coverage served a good purpose. Those appearing, particularly to [i.e., from]
agencies and departments became aware that they better be fully prepared, because the
board was prepared and the media was present. Again we began to receive more complete
and better documentation, and of equal importance, matters of a questionable nature, that
formerly would slide by, were not even presented.2

Although it was asserted by the Constitutional Convention Commission that for-
mer governors William P. Lane, Theodore R. McKeldin, and J. Millard Tawes believed
that consideration should be given to "reorganizing" the board,3 there seems to be no
sentiment among its current members for curtailing its authority, much less doing
away with it. Comptroller Goldstein and Treasurer James, in particular, are strong
advocates for continuing the board as it now exists, as was former Governor Mandel.
He felt that it was "the best source for the Governor to get an overview and to know
the day to day operation of the State Government," noting further that:

Every phase of the State was touched by the [board's] agenda. And the officials responsible
for a particular agency knew it. ... And when you asked questions the employees knew
they better be on their toes. I always felt that I was more knowledgeable and better prepared
by being a member of the [board]. The work of the board is almost a blueprint of the State
operation.4

Comptroller Goldstein (a board member at this writing for twenty-four years)
and Treasurer James have echoed these sentiments, which are also supported by my
own contacts with the board. The three members are necessarily exposed to more
information, and more reliable information, about the operations of state government
through service on the board than any of them could acquire otherwise, and the dis-
cussion among the three knowledgeable officials probably produces a more informed
decision than might otherwise be obtained. A dissent by any one member is likely to
receive public attention, which at least subconsciously tends to force the other members
to rethink their own positions.

In all, it seems clear that the board has been a good thing for the state. The
delegates to the 1864 Constitutional Convention accidentally stumbled onto something
worthwhile.

2. Personal letter to author, 24 March 1981.

3. Report of the Constitutional Convention Commission, p. 153.

4. Personal letter to author, 24 March 1981.

 

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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 125   View pdf image (33K)
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