Failed Regional Cooperation

November 30, 1991

It is easy to contend, as a recent University of Baltimore report does, that the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments "is not perceived as being an effective instrument for bringing about regional cooperation in the Baltimore Metropolitan area." The report's main recommendation seems a correct one: the region needs a new and more compact coordination panel.

But this will not address the main reason for BRCOG's failure -- a distinct lack of commitment to regionalism among the chief executives of Baltimore City and the surrounding counties that make up the organization's membership. Ever since the defeat last year of Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, who had such a commitment, BRCOG has been a ship adrift on high seas. It does not even have a permanent leader.

The University of Baltimore report should be read in its proper context. The real weakness of BRCOG is not its organization or mission but the failure of Baltimore's mayor and regional county executives to get personally involved in its activities, even though they are the group's key voting members. As a rule, they have seen fit to attend only BRCOG's ceremonial meetings, signings of pacts and photo opportunities. Given the executives' lack of familiarity with BRCOG's organization and its mission, it is not surprising they would perceive the council as being less than effective.

The critical point is that if the Baltimore area's top executives are not committed to regional cooperation, any attempt to revamp BRCOG is likely to produce only a new name and slogans with little chance of success.

The Baltimore Regional Council of Governments is one of 537 regional councils in existence in the United States and one of seven such groups operating in Maryland. If these numbers seem high, that is explained by the fact that each urban center is required to have a "metropolitan planning organization" under federal law. Even if BRCOG were to be wiped out, a successor organization would have to be created just to satisfy the requirements of the federal government, which uses such planning organizations as distributors of aid to localities.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has given BRCOG a month to come up with a plan to privatize that public agency, which was mandated by the General Assembly in 1963. If this fails, BRCOG in its present form is likely to fade away, only to be replaced by some other bureaucracy responsible for regional issues. However, any reorganization will be only hocus-pocus unless the region's leaders -- Charles Ecker, Roger Hayden, Robert Neall, Eileen Rehrmann and Kurt Schmoke -- take an active role in creating inter-jurisdictional cooperation, which is desperately needed in these days of cost-cutting and budget austerity.


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