New Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has gotten off to a disappointing start. After portraying herself as a consensus builder in campaign literature, she has managed to upset quite a few people. Meanwhile, her actions and statements have shown that she is not particularly experienced in management or county fiscal matters.
Initial criticism seems to have unnerved Ms. Rehrmann; yet she should be able to put this criticism behind herself. Her State of the County address outlined such a constructive legislative program that she now has an opportunity to forge a good working relationship with the county council.
The centerpiece of her legislative program is an adequate public facilities law that the Rehrmann administration wants to have on the books by November. Such a law would tie future land development approval to the availability of sufficient public services.
Along with the adequate public facilities law, the Rehrmann administration wants approval of a plan to preserve agriculture and farming communities by encouraging land-conserving residential clustering and village-center concepts. "We must move forward on this issue. Once agricultural land or open space is lost, it will be lost forever," the executive declared.
Both concepts enjoy strong support among county council members, many of whom are novices elected by voters angry about Harford's explosive growth in recent years. Indeed, it may have been the council's impatience and determination to have an adequate public facilities law introduced that prompted Ms. Rehrmann's action.
The executive and the council agree on the urgency of a number of other legislative initiatives as well, especially how to alleviate the county's solid waste problem.
Ms. Rehrmann started her address with a call for the government to reduce spending. In his response, Council President Jeffrey Wilson went further. Rejecting new taxation as an option, he called for restructuring Harford County government: "We must identify those governmental functions which we believe only government should perform (such as road management), those governmental functions in which we invite competition (such as schools), those governmental functions which we can share through partnerships (such as social services) and those governmental functions -- hopefully only a few -- which we must assume because no other entity in our society will."
Both Mrs. Rehrmann and Mr. Wilson should carry out their pledges. Local government operations are ripe for an overhaul. There is no better time for reform than a recession, when fiscal realities force everyone to figure out better ways to deliver services.