Howard County is something of an anomaly -- a great green ghetto which outsiders envy and insiders cherish. Howard boasts superb public education and recreation, before- and after-school public school programs and a roster of progressive social policies. Growth is under control, streams and farmlands are protected. None of this comes cheap, fiscally or politically. County Executive Elizabeth Bobo has taken a good deal of heat for establishing policies that provide the high quality of life residents want.
Republican challenger Charles Ecker, a former deputy superintendent of schools, has raised important questions about the fiscal, environmental and demographic quandaries Howard will face in coming years. His strength is his genuine commitment and an open, plain-spoken manner. His qualifications for leading the county through the next stretch, however, are not substantial. Bobo offers a clearer vision for Howard's future plus a record of accomplishment. She has earned re-election to a second term.
In the 1st Councilmanic District, we support Shane Pendergrass, who has chaired the council for the past two years. Pendergrass has been a tireless advocate of growth control and environmental preservation and has remained responsive to constituent concerns. Challenger Dennis Schrader seems partisan and dogmatic -- out of sync with the county's priorities.
In the 2nd District, we favor Republican Darrel Drown over incumbent Angela Beltram. Drown, a budget officer for the school system, is a fiscal conservative with a social conscience -- a combination that will serve Howard well as it grapples with the slow-down ahead. Beltram has been out front on growth management and has supported the council's major legislative initiatives. But incumbency has taken a toll; the district could use the fresh, creative enthusiasm that Drown offers.
Likewise, we support Democratic challenger Susan Scheidt over Republican Charles Feaga in the 5th District. As the lone voice of Howard County's rural constituency, Feaga has been valuable on the council, but his market-oriented position runs counter to the growth-control goals the county is now pursuing. Scheidt, who runs a farm in Highland, has a background in land design and development; she offers far more progressive ideas about the district's growth problems.
In the 4th District, we support Democratic incumbent Paul Farragut over Republican Michael Deets. Farragut, who was appointed to fill Ruth Keeton's seat, has emerged as one of the council's stable and reasonable voices.
Howard Countians also will vote on five charter questions designed to streamline county government. We support all five. Question A cuts bureaucratic paperwork by limiting the circumstances under which employees may appeal to the Personnel Board. Question B brings the County Charter into line with state laws regarding receipts of money by council members and the executive. Question C lets the county Ethics Commission, rather than the elected and politically vulnerable council, make exceptions to conflict of interest laws. Questions D and E are fiscal housekeeping measures to give the county flexibility in issuing bonds, which could result in lower interest rates.