Ecker: Decency Without Direction

December 09, 1992

The biggest problem in analyzing Howard County Executiv Charles I. Ecker's tenure is getting past the fact that he is an extraordinarily decent and conscientious man.

Time and again during his first two years in office, Mr. Ecker has shown himself to be above the muck of petty politics.

In his handling of the county's thorny budget problems, he has been almost Solomon-like in his determination to be fair. At the same time, he has delivered in spades on his pledge to make himself and county government more accessible. Even in matters of controversy, Mr. Ecker has shown an ability to avoid bowing to extremist voices, in favor of what is, without partisanship, the right thing to do.

Confronted with questions about his commitment to human rights when it came to homosexual discrimination, the county executive bucked more conservative members of his Republican Party to nominate a lesbian to the human rights commission.

Consistently, Mr. Ecker has tackled the county's budget problems by demanding an equitable distribution of cuts. That tactic has not endeared him to some county employees, particularly teachers, who lost a salary increase in an early round of cutbacks. But Mr. Ecker's goal always seems focused on fairness, and for that he deserves praise.

His most obvious achievement has come in the realm of negotiations. His successful dealings with Coca-Cola Enterprises to open a regional headquarters and bottling plant in Dorsey means the county will face a brighter financial future, and Mr. Ecker is said to be primarily responsible for navigating the Coke deal to fruition.

But despite his accomplishments and a leadership style distinguished by his own decency, Mr. Ecker's tenure is marked by the same deficiency that saddled George Bush's presidency: a lack of the "vision thing." Mr. Ecker has yet to articulate his thoughts about a direction for the county in the coming decade.

Much of his problem-solving has been piecemeal and focused on dousing flare-ups. When it comes to expressing a cohesive and desirable plan that moves Maryland's boom county of the '80s toward an era of reasonable growth and prosperity, Mr. Ecker is wanting. He has two years to turn that around.

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