Show Some Respect For Chairwoman

COMMENT

December 13, 1992|By KEVIN THOMAS

Shane. Shane. Shane.

(Oops. That was a previous column.)

Chairwoman Pendergrass. Chairwoman Pendergrass. Chairwoman Pendergrass.

Now, that's a little more respectful. There are going to be a lot of changes around the George Howard Building now that Shane Pendergrass has become chairwoman of the Howard County Council. People are going to be a lot more on their toes, checking those Ps and Qs, crossing those Ts, dotting those Is.

And there's going to be a lot more deference and respect paid to the council chairwoman. You had better believe it.

That's because Shane Pendergrass can be a difficult person to deal with -- especially when she feels she's been crossed.

Case in point is the now infamous Coke Caper, which ended in an 11th-hour standoff that required the governor to plead his case personally while a host of county officials played men and women in waiting to the whims of Mrs. Pendergrass.

I realize that I'm getting dangerously close to portraying the new council chairwoman as imperious. And that's dangerously close

to being called sexist. And all of us who know anything about Shane Pendergrass know that she can pick the real chauvinist out a pen full of pigs.

But I'm willing to risk being labeled something less than politically correct by saying that Mrs. Pendergrass demands a certain amount of reverential treatment.

I'm not the person who has the most to worry about here, however. County Executive Charles I. Ecker is a little like the envoy who came to court one day and bowed to the wrong person. When asked for his reaction to Mrs. Pendergrass' ascension, Mr. Ecker kept the response brief.

"I'd like to congratulate her on being chosen," Mr. Ecker said. "I anticipate working well with her." I don't know about you, but I don't call that an effusive comment.

Some of her council colleagues were less gentle in their responses. One fretted about what Mrs. Pendergrass might do now that she has been given more power, adding that she has a tendency to want to be "everyone's mother hen."

Another council member said he hoped things would run smoothly. "I don't like to prejudge people," he said. "There have been problems in the past, but I'm always hopeful."

Of course the question is, given such concerns, why was Mrs. Pendergrass appointed chairwoman?

The easy answer is that Democrats, who hold the majority on the council, rotate the position and it was her turn. Council members tell me that, in fact, there was a move afoot to have Paul Farragut serve a second turn as chairman in order to put off Mrs. Pendergrass for another year.

Mr. Farragut, however, did not want the position badly enough and Mrs. Pendergrass did. As is customary, the final vote was unanimous and as far as the public is supposed to be concerned, it's all for one and one for all.

But that doesn't explain why everyone's tip-toeing around countygovernment these days.

Truth be told, there is nothing wrong with Mrs. Pendergrass' approach to leadership. County government might be improved by a little more caution and judicial behavior. It doesn't hurt to demand professionalism.

The problem with Shane Pendergrass, and the reason so many county pols are on edge these days, is that many suspect the new chairwoman may demand a lot more -- like revenge and retribution.

It is no small secret that Mrs. Pendergrass feels she was left out of the early discussions with Coca-Cola Enterprises about its proposed regional headquarters and bottling plant in Dorsey, even though the company was looking at land in her district.

Frankly, Coke could have made things a lot easier on itself if the soda executives had simply done the appropriate thing and talked to her from the beginning. Unfortunately, Coke didn't do that. Equally unfortunate was the way in which Mrs. Pendergrass responded to Coke's oversight, blowing it far out of proportion.

In the end, Mrs. Pendergrass only proved that Coke was right in its fear that telling too many people could jeopardize plans.

When Mrs. Pendergrass made county officials sweat it out at the last moment while she vacillated over whether to vote in favor of a water fee reduction to seal the Coke deal, more than a few people wondered whether the council chairwoman was simply making a point.

The question now is whether she was satisfied or needs further vindication. I, for one, believe everyone -- including Mrs. Pendergrass -- will make every effort to assure that work at the county government building progresses amicably.

But let there be one false move, and we're going to find out whose kingdom this is.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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