New Try at Regional Cooperation

May 13, 1992

After 28 years of operation under various names -- the longest as the Regional Planning Council -- the state-financed Baltimore Regional Council of Governments will bow out June 30. Under legislation recently signed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the non-profit Baltimore Metropolitan Council will come into existence. It will assume much of the previous council's staff and duties.

A federal law requires that each urban area have a "metropolitan planning organization" as a prerequisite for funding. Six such agencies exist in Maryland. Only the Baltimore council has been financed by the state. Now it, too, will go private.

This change was triggered by unhappiness at almost all levels. The chief executives of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties neglected the regional council. They said it was ineffective. Citizens did not seem to see any value in it, either.

Under the new arrangement, largely engineered by City Councilman Tony Ambridge, the mayor and the county executives will take direct control of the council. It will be as purposeful and successful as they permit it to be. The chief executives will no longer have anyone to blame but themselves.

Historically, regionalism has had tough going in the Baltimore area. As population, political power and wealth have shifted, city-bashing has increased. Few have taken the time to consider the wider implications of successfully implemented regionalism. It is symptomatic that the old council's death throes started a year and a half ago when a brand new crop of politicians swept into executive offices in most metropolitan counties. They thought they had all the answers to government. Regionalism was not among those answers.

This sentiment has shifted. As the privatization of the Baltimore council shows, the area's government chiefs have begun to realize they cannot exist in a vacuum. They need demographic and geographic data on the region from the council's economic resource information services. And to keep their political clout, the executives need to control distribution of federal highway funds, one of the chief responsibilities of the old council.

We urge the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to be a region-wide activist and energizer. We urge it to pick waste-management planning and coordination as its top priority. Regardless of where they live, Marylanders are running out of options: landfills are filling to capacity; incinerators are a hot topic of controversy, and recycling is only a partial solution. If the trash and ash problems are to be solved at all, a regional approach is a must.

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