The pied piper of Bel Air

March 16, 1992

Jeffrey D. Wilson, president of the Harford County Council, intends to run for higher office. Until then, he's running amok.

Mr. Wilson recently exhorted county union leaders not to "roll over and play dead" on pay raises. Go for a raise, he coached the labor reps. If that doesn't work, go for at least $200 bonuses for everybody. Make the county prove it's a "good-faith" employer, he said.

Three weeks ago, Mr. Wilson scolded the county school board because it was having justifiable second thoughts about approving a 10 percent pay raise for some of its teachers in this recession.

If Mr. Wilson, in his first term on the council, were merely offering against-the-grain viewpoints or floating new ideas, his unorthodoxy might have a place. But the council president is fomenting the worst sort of discord, playing a piccolo of false hope and marching county employees, and government labor relations, right off a cliff.

Harford County workers, though, know the score: They work for the only subdivision in the region that has not been forced to furlough its work force. And they have just seen headlines announcing that 200 more private-sector jobs will be lost when a Bel Air rainwear-maker closes shop soon.

Meanwhile, county officials are preparing to transfer $3 million or more out of Harford's $10 million reserve to cover a depleted health budget and pending state cuts. If the reserve fund drops much below $7 million, Harford's bond rating could be hurt, meaning higher interest payments for the county.

Mr. Wilson contends that county government should be spending on its people, rather than on "Taj Mahals or Great Pyramids." Among the projects being considered by Harford officials for next year are the Ninth and 10th Wonders of the World: Fixing a bad boiler at Bel Air High School and contributing to a community college facility to train trade apprentices. Money may also be proposed for two new elementary schools in a county where students come in so fast, the schools all but open with portable classrooms attached.

Money spent on schools is money spent on people. As for $200 bonuses, this token raise wouldn't change any employee's lot. Prudent management has helped Harford weather the recession in excellent shape. Maybe Mr. Wilson, in his quest for higher office, hasn't had time to notice.

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