Rehrmann: Black Ink, Black Roses

December 10, 1992

Harford County has fared better than its metro sisters i combating the recession and subsequent state budget cutbacks. One reason has been its relatively buoyant local economy -- with the state's fastest growth in public and private sector employment, and in private income, since 1988.

Another major reason has been the adept budget management of first-term County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who has managed to avoid county worker layoffs, has cut spending, preserved the property tax rate, and built a healthy surplus.

An aggressive fast-track economic development plan lured a series of major businesses to the predominantly rural county. Residential growth continues apace, despite her program of higher user and hookup fees for new construction.

It's a comparatively rosy picture amid the landscapes of economic gloom and despair painted by nearby jurisdictions. Mrs. Rehrman's concentration on numbers-crunching and fiscal conservatism suits today's demands.

One thing that Mrs. Rehrmann has failed to do in two years is to mellow an iron-fisted management style that radiates intimidation and hinders effective relations with the County Council, her staff and the public. Harford faces several lawsuits stemming from firings of veteran bureaucrats. The Black Rose, her symbol of personal pique, is a dreaded award in county offices.

The Democrat's tiffs with the Republican-majority, mostly newcomers, continue to smolder despite modest conciliatory gestures. Surprisingly and luckily, the tension has yet to imperil any major programs. The Rehrmann administration has pushed for a farmland preservation plan (funded by more real estate levies) and rushed out a countywide recycling program (ignored by her predecessor.) This month, she nailed down a water supply deal with Baltimore City to meet Harford's needs for at least the next two decades.

Mrs. Rehrmann has looked to practical future needs of the county, while minding the pennies of tight budgets. She may NTC take a bit too much credit for programs her predecessor started, but she has pressed to make them work well.

She has worked hard to learn this administrative job, after a career in the state legislature. As continued wage freezes disgust county workers, and should state cuts continue for '94, however, her future challenges will be tougher to meet.

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