Selling out

November 27, 1991

To say the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments has been ineffective, as a recent report notes, is a bit unfair. The organization has, certainly, made regionalism a buzzword and has, here and there, taken token action. But it has fallen short of what ought to be the real goal: to launch a cooperative approach to governing. Instead, it has become merely another plodding state agency mired in politics.

In a curious twist, disappointment in the council's performance may hold the best hope for its revitalization. Last week, citing the state's sagging economy, Governor Schaefer threatened to slash the council's funding. That, in turn, would trigger cuts by the six member jurisdictions -- Baltimore city, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Baltimore and Howard counties -- which contribute matching funds. But it need not eviscerate the group. And it should not. Despite its anemic performance so far, a restructured and invigorated regional council holds the best hope of solving shared problems in tough economic times.

In recognition of that, the governor has appointed a committee to study prospects for reorganization. By far the most promising is privatization, a setup under which the council could market the regional reports and statistics that it compiles -- from growth and population forecasts vital to business to data required for the Clean Air Act -- to raise money. Then, free of the mandates imposed on a government agency, the group could expand its membership to include people from area business, religious and civic communities, instead of just politicians and officials.

This kind of wholesale change offers the best chance of fostering a real public recognition that all kinds of needs -- from more efficient government spending to improving the education, social service and the business climates -- can be better served when area governments tackle problems together.

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