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Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (File photo)

‘This is our Flint’

Anyone in Maryland even paying partial attention to the state’s top tax collector will surely know the place air conditioning in schools occupies in the heart of Peter V.R. Franchot.

But the comptroller used a discussion about a rule change that would allow state school construction and renovation money to be used for temporary window units to drive his message home and compared his concerns over the issue to the lead pollution crisis in the Flint Michigan water system.

“This is our Flint,” Franchot said of lack of climate controlled classrooms in some jurisdictions. “For years the people of Flint were told ‘There’s no lead in the water. There’s no problem with the water it’s fine.’ The mayor came on tv, sat and drank a glass of Flint water. Pushed aside, back of the hand, not a problem. This is our Flint.”

Franchot chastised local officials for ignoring what he called “unsafe, unhealthy and inhumane” in local schools.

“For too long these parents teachers and students have been given the back of the hand from the people who should have been looking out for them from the very start,” Franchot said. “Bureaucrats protecting their own turf. Politicians protecting one another. Editorial writers dismissing this as nothing more than a side show and that there were trendier, more fashionable issues to ponder. Well. times have changed. there’s a new sheriff in town.”

Franchot made his comments moments before the three-member Board of Public Works voted to approve a rule change that will enable counties to use state school construction and renovation money to pay for temporary window air conditioning units.

The comptroller, who is a member of the panel along with Gov. Larry Hogan and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, has championed the issue of renovating schools to add air conditioning for years and has frequently criticized Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for failing to more quickly address the situation.

Franchot said Wednesday that any elected official who leaves state money on the table and fails to act “continue their own obstructionism at their own peril.”

Following the meeting, Franchot stood by his earlier comparison.

“I think everyone knows what I mean when I say this is Maryland’s Flint,” Franchot said. “It is. Out in Flint, local elected officials acted as if the water problem was no big deal. The mayor famously drank a glass of lead contaminated water in front of tv cameras and the dismissed that issue and said it was not a problem and sent everybody away. In Baltimore County we have a problem that affects the health and welfare of tens of thousands of kids and we getting the same kind of message from government which is ‘Oh no, this is not a problem.’ Guess what, it is a problem.”