Howard's councilmanic discourtesy

May 18, 1992

The representatives of most local jurisdictions practice a custom known as "councilmanic courtesy." If a councilman has a strong point of view on an issue affecting his or her district, then the other council members usually will cast their votes in support of their colleague's position.

But now it appears some members of the Howard County Council have developed a new method that could be called "councilmanic discourtesy."

Within the past year, the council approved two separate measures that would have put new sidewalks on Northfield Road and Donleigh and Seneca drives. The sidewalks would have been built on homeowners' lawns where they abut road shoulders. The council reasoned that the sidewalks would provide a safe path for children who walk to school. And in the process, the county would save the cost of busing those children to their classes.

Although the county owns the portions of land where it wanted to install the sidewalks, some homeowners have planted trees and shrubs there. Indeed, most residents oppose the sidewalks because they would wipe out the existing greenery and pose other hassles, such as snow-shoveling.

The residents made their feelings known to their respective councilmen, Darrel Drown of the Second District and Paul R. Farragut of the Fourth. The two councilmen then asked County Executive Charles I. Ecker to withdraw the sidewalk appropriations from his recent capital budget proposal. Mr. Ecker, a former county school administrator, promptly dropped the items from his budget.

Other council members became upset. Hadn't they already hashed out these issues and agreed as a group to pass the measures? Mr. Farragut replied that the construction would be too expensive. Another member shot back that it will cost the county a lot more if a child on his or her way to school is injured while walking in the road.

When Howard County switched from at-large to districted representation six years ago, some people voiced fears of the sort of parochialism just committed by Messrs. Drown and Farragut. Actually, parochialism is a common and not always harmful part of the political process. It is, in fact, at the heart of "councilmanic courtesy." A more valid concern might be the one expressed by those council members angered when these previously approved projects were quietly killed by a few words in the county executive's ear.

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