It Ain't Broke? So Improve It HOWARD COUNTY

January 25, 1993

If it ain't broke, the saying goes, don't fix it.

Howard County's economic development office has performed so well the past two years that it could hardly be described as "broke." Yet County Executive Charles I. Ecker has asked the Howard legislative delegation to act on his proposal to replace the current development agency with a nine-member board, or "authority," to be funded with both public and private dollars.

Such a set-up, which has been effective in Prince George's County, would have advantages over the current operation, Mr. Ecker argues. For example, the usual allotment of county development dollars would be sweetened with funding from the private sector. The county's ability to lure companies and boost existing businesses would thus be enhanced.

Also, where it might appear inappropriate for a government official to travel afar to fish the economic waters, an excursion of that sort would look less unseemly if made by a member of a private-public development group, the executive claims.

County legislators won't decide until Wednesday whether to push the Ecker proposal, and while still a little fuzzy, it apparently has met their general approval. They have raised some questions about the bill, though, primarily to do with the amount of power to be entrusted to the board. Should the executive control the appointments or share that power with the County Council? Is there a danger the board could become too aggressive in pushing the agenda of developers?

We have the same kinds of questions. After all, while half-private, the board would also be half-public, funded in part by tax dollars and committed to serving the interests of county citizens. Maybe local business leaders felt frozen out when Elizabeth Bobo was county executive, but if this new board is created, its members must take pains that they don't behave like kids with keys to a toy store.

As long as the board would adhere to the farsighted philosophy of the county's Economic Development Plan for the next two decades -- forcefully reiterated by Mr. Ecker in his recent State of the County address -- then we would support its creation. Indeed, county leaders deserve credit for choosing not to rest on their laurels. It's good to see they keep looking for imaginative ways to make Howard's good economic record even better.

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