New County Planner Knows His Job From The Ground Up 24 Years In Department, He's 'Common-sense' Choice

December 05, 1990|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Joseph Warren Rutter Jr. received a birthday present of sorts this week when he was named acting director of the county's planning department.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker appointed Rutter to the post Friday for a two-month period, but legislation to extend the appointment to six months will be sent to the County Council in January.

Rutter says his chief function will be to "maintain continuity and the comfort level" of his 50-member planning staff as it seeks to implement Ecker's plans for a new adequate-facilities ordinance. The County Council has a March 4 deadline for approving the ordinance.

Ecker last week appointed a committee of attorneys, developers, civic leaders, school officials and county employees to draft the legislation and bring it to the council in January.

Rutter will serve until a new director is appointed. He or any other member of the planning department can apply for the job, but Rutter said he hasn't decided whether he will.

Builder Harry "Chip" Lundy, who headed the Ecker transition team charged with evaluating the planning department, said that while his committee did not make personnel recommendations, Rutter was a "common-sense" choice to become acting director.

Rutter, who celebrated his 44th birthday Sunday, had served most recently as former Planning Director Uri Avin's deputy, and was "very loyal and very hard-working" in that "very difficult" job, Lundy said.

As the person primarily responsible for seeing that the adequate-facilities legislation becomes a reality, Rutter has more than a professional interest in the results. He grew up in the county and joined the planning department as a draftsman in 1966, two years after graduation from Howard High School.

Since that time, he has done just about every job in the planning department: engineering technician involved in the site-plan review and building-permit process; data gatherer and researcher for the 1971 general plan; program manager for the 1977 comprehensive rezoning; data management forecaster and developer of county data bases; and section supervisor charged with reorganizing the department under Avin.

He is proudest, however, of his work in helping to keep the community of Guilford from becoming an industrial center. A 1980 plaque of appreciation from Guilford citizens occupies a central place on his wall.

"The assumption" at the time, Rutter said, was that the county didn't need Guilford and the people could be relocated. Rutter instead found Guilford "a very viable community" and worked with its leaders to preserve it as a racially mixed community of people of all income levels.

The county spent "millions on infrastructure," extending water and sewer lines there "to preserve a very valuable part of the county," Rutter said.

Community activist Dottie Moore, who worked with Rutter on the Guilford project, calls him "a good man" who "related very well to the community."

Rouse Co. Vice President Alton J. Scavo agrees.

"He's been an assest for a lot of years," Scavo said. "He is dedicated to community service and has the ability to get the confidence of the people he works with. I personally think he's done a pretty damn good job."

Affable, modest and possessed of a wry sense of humor, Rutter earned his community service mantle personally as well as professionally.

When living in Carroll County, for example, he became president of the PTA council and was "solicited by those on the inside" to run for school board, but "didn't make it past the primary."

"My political career was just the length I wanted it to be," he said.

"It was a good character-builder."

Asked to assess his strengths and limitations as a planner and department head, Rutter said his strengths "obviously are a history of the county and a knowledge of the processes."

"I've done just about every job there is to do from the technical side to policy setting," he said. "I drive the staff nuts because I tend to look at things at the micro level -- I want to look in detail at how plans are to be implemented."

One of the rewards of having been here 24 years, Rutter said, is "staying around long enough to see many of the things you worked on get implemented. That's very rewarding."

As for his limitations, Rutter said his "entire professional experience has been confined to Howard County -- I need to continue to look at the way things are done elsewhere."

The flip side of that is that "Howard County is a place (planners) from all over the country and the world look to. How anyone (working here as a planner) could not want to stay, I don't know," he said. "It's a fantastic place to live and raise a family."

When asked to speculate how much of himself is reflected in the county he helped plan, Rutter said, "Howard County means a lot to me, but I'm not sure I mean a lot to Howard County. Hopefully, my ideas have had some impact. But the county would be just as nice a place if I hadn't been here."

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