Redefining Regional Cooperation

May 16, 1991

In science and industry, new technologies and new methods constantly replace old ones. Contrast that with governments, which are endlessly studying the same issues. Problems do not get resolved because political will is lacking. A case in point: jurisdictional cooperation in the Baltimore region.

In 1963, a blue-ribbon commission made two recommendations "to prepare the way toward metropolitan government in the Baltimore area." After much political haggling, legislators in Annapolis agreed to create a joint metropolitan planning organization known today as the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments. But they rejected an equally important proposal for a metropolitan service agency that would have run jails, trash disposal, transportation and water and sewers in Baltimore City and the neighboring counties. Countless committees have subsequently tried to figure out what to do with those services; the problem remains unresolved.

Now the very existence of the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments is in doubt.

The new executives who were elected last fall in Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford and Baltimore counties do not seem to understand what the state-mandated planning panel does with its $2.6 million budget and 43 employees. "We don't get our money's worth," Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall says of the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments. "It needs another look, it needs a mission."

Amen.

The Baltimore Regional Council of Governments requires (1) a leader; (2) a clear definition of priorities, (3) a future agenda.

When Dennis F. Rasmussen was defeated in his bid for re-election as Baltimore County Executive, the council lost a leader who had taken a deep interest in regionalism. It is now up to Gov. William Donald Schaefer to appoint a new chairman. Over the years, planning professionals as well as politicians have held that post. Perhaps the time is ripe for a business executive.

We propose that Governor Schaefer call a summit of the region's top officials to discuss the future of the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, its priorities, leadership needs and how it should be tailored to meet the challenges of the 1990s. The council's relationship with organizations such as the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Big Seven also should be on the agenda.

The recent "Baltimore and Beyond" report urged more focused regional action. The Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, as an agency mandated by the state, has played an important coordinating role for nearly three decades. It needs to re-examine its mission so that it will not lose its usefulness because of lagging political support.

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