For 4 New Council Members, A Taxing Year Isn't Over

BUDGET WATCH 91 -- Where do all our dollars go?

May 22, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

When Councilman Carl G. "Dutch" Holland was elected last fall, veteran council members told him to wait until May. Then, he'd see what a councilman's job was really like.

"Boy, were they right," Holland,R-Pasadena, said last week.

As the county's annual budget review nears its end, Holland and his three freshman colleagues describe the nuts and bolts of government spending as a grueling series of hearings on every expenditure frommillion-dollar parks to 10-cent pencils.

"I'll tell you what, it's tiresome. It's long hours and sitting in one place," Holland said. "Boy, I was tired last night. I certainly will be glad to see June 1 come."

Reviewing County Executive Robert R. Neall's proposed $616.6 million budget is the most significant and difficult task the four new councilors have taken on since their election last November. The budget process also is the first real test of their priorities and how well they understand the workings of county government.

As a group, the four have earned good marks from other veteran officials for using the hearings as a way to learn as much as possible about the workings of government. In fact, the council members have asked so manyquestions that some staff members have jokingly complained that the hearings will go on forever.

"They are making an honest attempt toeducate themselves, a lot more this year than in any recent year," said Adrian Teel, Anne Arundel's chief administrative officer since 1984. "They believe that, based on the taxpayers' revolt in the last political campaign, it's their responsibility to go over all the details."

"They've just come through a campaign, and they want it all out in the open all at once," said Council Chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River.

Individually, the four new councilors have made different impressions.

Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, seems to have improved his image since the budget sessions began. Other than an occasional joke, Middlebrooks had said little at council meetings since November. But he impressed observers this month by becoming more vocal and inquisitive.

Earlier this month, he prompted a lively debate when he questioned Sheriff Robert Pepersack's request for an extra $90,000 to balance his 1991 budget.

"He really nailed Steve Welkos (assistant county budget officer) to the wall," said Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville.

The council eventually gave the sheriff $80,000, but not before Middlebrooks made his point: that it wasn't fair to grant the sheriff's 11th-hour request for money when for months the council has been chiding the Board of Educationfor overspending, then asking for money at the last minute.

"He'san up-and-coming guy," Boschert said.

Unlike some of his colleagues, who have used the budget hearings as a way to learn about variouscounty programs, Middlebrooks said he's deliberately confined his questions to financial matters. "We're getting into the meat and potatoes of government. I want to see where the money goes. I can find out about our programs some other time."

While Middlebrooks enjoys therole of a young leader on his way up, Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum, is widely seen as an older politician struggling to come toterms with a county that's not the same as the one he helped govern years ago. Bachman served on the council from 1964 to 1982, when he waged an unsuccessful bid for county executive.

Most observers agree Bachman has a valuable knowledge of the county but has been hurt byhis eight-year hiatus from local government. As one county official put it, "It's difficult coming back and not living in the past."

During this budget session, Bachman has been most vocal about money for North County High School, which he sees as the most important project in his district. He has accused the school board of holding the project hostage by underestimating costs; originally budgeted at $11.4 million, school planners now say the school will cost $17.6 million.

Other than the North County school issue, Bachman basically has been uncritical of Neall's budget. In fact, he has lined up with the Republicans on virtually every issue since the election. "He's been going with whatever Bobby says," said former Councilman Theodore J. Sophocleus, who Bachman replaced. "That's a strange position for him. He's never done that before."

Bachman said he's been voting his mind,not his party. "On Nov. 6 I was a Democrat. On Nov. 7, I was an elected official. There is no party affiliation."

But political partisanship has been a factor on this council.

Council members and others in the political arena place most of the blame on freshman Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, R-Arnold. Evans has had few qualms about injecting partisan politics into council matters, such as the sheriff's request for extra money. She accused other council members of denying the request because Pepersack is a Republican.

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