From Leadership Conference, An Ecker Think Tank Is Born

February 26, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

A key aide to County Executive Charles I. Ecker plans to form a think tank to help local government find alternative ways to deliver services.

Members will be selected from those who attended a government-sponsored leadership conference last weekend, said Beverly M. Wilhide, Ecker's chief administrative assistant. The group will use information gleaned from the conference to start its deliberations, she said.

Each person attending the conference was asked to fill out a cardoffering three solutions for county government to think about. "I guarantee something's going to come out of this," Wilhide said.

One guaranteed outcome, she said, is an updated mailing list of county leaders. Wilhide mailed 1,000 invitations to the conference but is suresome people who should have been invited were not.

"I want to apologize to anybody who didn't get an invitation," she said.

Built around the theme, "I am part of the problem . . . I can be part of thesolution!" the conference opened with an address by Michael K. Hooker, president of the University of Maryland's Baltimore County campus.

Hooker said that new ways of thinking are needed to address structural changes in society. A panel of county and school officials saidnew thinking is needed to address their problems as well.

The 290people attending the conference were divided into six groups of about 50 people each to discuss issues raised by Hooker, county budget administrator Raymond S. Wacks and the panelists.

In each focus group -- education through 12th grade, higher education, public safety, infrastructure, human services, and economic environment -- participants were given a list of questions.

"Throw out all of the sacred cows," they were told. "Come up with alternatives that should be explored for fiscal analysis and further study. Prioritize!"

After aboutan hour, the groups joined each other for a plenary session to report and record their findings. The infrastructure group was one of the few to offer specific recommendations.

Among the ideas it proposedwere a rate-based recycling program, the use of unused private-sector buildings for public purposes such as schools and libraries, and a standard building design that would allow public buildings to accommodate a series of uses, from schools to libraries to offices.

The public safety and human services groups said a major problem for theirbranches of government is a lack of communication with the public about what they provide. The economic environment group said the countyneeds to make rapid rail a priority and accomplish a better job of coupling business and educational programs.

Following group reports, Ecker told the thinning crowd he hoped the conference had helped restore confidence in government.

"If the session was good, you madeit good," he said.

As for the future, he said, "We're going to have to expect more from ourselves and expect government to provide less. We're going to have to get people away from the expectation that government can provide everything."

Wilhide said the conference itself is an example of private groups joining with government to provide services at reduced cost.

The Economic Forum provided refreshments, and Hooker, Wacks and the panelists donated their time, Wilhide said.

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