Five novices have brought sufficient new blood to the Baltimore City Council to warrant optimism that it will be a more effective leadership body. But hope is not enough. For that reason, Council President Mary Pat Clarke's reshuffle last week of veteran members' committee assignments is an encouraging development.
Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, will take over as chairman of the education and human resources committee, a crucial oversight panel that languished under Councilwoman Iris G. Reeves, D-5th. Mr. Stokes played a key role in last spring's controversial redistricting. He promises to be a vocal and visible education chairman at a time when thoroughgoing reforms in the city public school system require careful attention and scrutiny -- but not political interference.
Mrs. Reeves, for her part, is moving to another important position. With Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, she will co-chair the budget and appropriations committee. It will be intriguing to see how they share responsibilities and how Mrs. Reeves gets along with Mr. DiBlasi, an incurable and ambitious self-promoter. Perhaps this is a case where creative tension can bring better results in analyzing the mayor's budget priorities.
Councilman Wilbur E. Bill Cunningham, D-3rd, seems well-suited to head the upgraded health and environment committee. He is determined. He knows the city bureaucracy. But he has to cope diplomatically with vocal demands for services from interest groups, particularly the gay community that harshly criticized Mr. Stokes when he ran the panel.
These assignments should increase the council's effectiveness in overseeing municipal agencies. At a time when budgets are being cut and personnel trimmed, watchful monitoring of agency efficiency ought to be one of the top council priorities. Mrs. Reeves and Messrs. DiBlasi, Stokes and Cunningham should consider their new posts primarily as oversight mandates.
Collectively, the new council and its president should aim to develop a new focus. Some of that refocusing happened during the past four years when the council reasserted its leadership in legislative initiatives and in unprecedented co-operative efforts with the Baltimore County Council.
Joint regional projects ought to be on the agenda of this new council, too. But hard economic times also require that council members take a more active role in lobbying for city priorities in the General Assembly. They can do this by making sure that constituents, individually and collectively, make their voices heard on issues crucial to the city. Activism breeds activism.