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June 25, 2008

The MML and the COPS Program

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The annual Maryland Municipal League summer convention in Ocean City wraps up four days of seminars and meetings at the Ocean City Convention Center today.


This year over 1,500people from throughout Maryland attended as well as representatives from 124 municipalities.


For those who may not be familiar with the Maryland Municipal League (MML), it was founded in 1936 as a result of the advocacy of former Annapolis Mayor Louis N. Phelps.


The original purpose, according to a history of the league written in 1986, was to obtain for Maryland municipalities “their fair share of the money available to all state and local governments from the Work Progress Administration (WPA) under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.


Over 70 years later the MML continues to work as an advocate for municipalities throughout the State of Maryland. By joining together in a statewide association, the MML works to strengthen the role and capacity of municipal government through research, legislation, technical assistance, training and the dissemination of information for its members.


(I served as an elected member-at-large on the board of directors for five straight years – until May 2005.)


Today the league represents all of Maryland’s 157 municipal governments – and two special taxing districts. It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association controlled and maintained by city and town governments.


The annual summer convention has grown over the years into a must-attend event for statewide elected leaders as well as municipal officials. Even though it is held in Ocean City, it is a far cry from a “vacation” at the beach. It is a great deal of intense work crammed into too few days.


Today’s municipal officials are facing bewildering challenges over critical water, sewer, and road infrastructure improvements, and the increased cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, and electricity.


The uncertainties emanating from Washington, which have only been exacerbated by the long and contentious presidential campaign, add to the pressure cooker for local officials


A snapshot of the various seminars and work sessions at this year’s convention provides additional insight into what is on the minds of Maryland’s municipal leaders.


Seminars, lectures, and work sessions included: the changing complexities in cable television franchising, municipal budget concerns, how to fund recreation in an era when basic infrastructure needs are chasing too few dollars and reeling from even more unfunded mandates from state and federal bureaucracies.


Ethics and changing laws with respect to new technology continues to be a focus of attention, as well as the changing relationships of law enforcement with citizens and local municipal officials.


It is no surprise that the stressors on community quality of life, employment, and housing; such as rental housing, workforce, low income housing, zoning, growth and annexation issues, as well as preserving home ownership and weathering the foreclosure crisis, were also the subject of work sessions and seminars.


One breakthrough in funding for local law enforcement was announced at the opening ceremonies by Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), according to MML immediate past president David Carey, a Bel Air commissioner.


Senator Mikulski announced that she has been able to put together a coalition to restore $600 million in “COPS” grants for local law enforcement.


For those who have been continually perplexed by President George W. Bush’s fiscal policies, we are bewildered that at a time when the administration has been fighting to get a $603 million appropriation for the Iraqi police, the president’s FY 2009 budget cut funding for the Justice Department’s state and local police programs by 61 percent.


For example, according to several news accounts, “the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which helps local law enforcement officials deal with violent crime and serious offenders, was proposed to be cut to $200 million in the next fiscal year, which begins October, 1. In 2002, the year before the Iraq war, the program received $900 million.”


In comparison, included in the recent $108 billion emergency-spending bill for continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are $603 million for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, $744 million for the Ministry of Defense and $153 million for “quick response.”


The quick response by many – who nevertheless support the president’s approach to the global war against terrorism and certainly want to do everything possible to support our troops in harm’s way – is to wonder aloud: When are the Iraqis going to step up to the plate and assume some of these responsibilities?


Meanwhile, one news report noted, the “Congressional Research Service estimates that since the war began, the United States has spent about $20.75 billion to train and equip Iraqi soldiers and police officers.”


In Senator Mikulski’s role as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, she announced that the $25.8 billion FY 2009 spending bill for the Department of Justice includes a $2.7 billion increase over what the president included in his budget request.


A press release from the senator notes that funding for state and local law enforcement includes: $600 million for Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) grants, $580 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, $415 million to prevent violence against women, and $400 million for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.


Our national defense starts at home. Without strong law enforcement, there can be no community – and the funding for these various Justice Department programs has historically been money well spent.


Over 70 years have passed since the Maryland Municipal League began an effort to garner our local community’s fair share of federal funds for our health, safety, and welfare – and today, the struggle continues.


Today, there will be many tired local municipal officials traveling home from a trip to Ocean City that was everything but a day at the beach. And for that we owe them – and Senator Mikulski – our thanks.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:


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