Midway through term, County Council members are still feeling their way

February 21, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Which is it? Either the Harford County Council is a group of independent thinkers who have forged ahead to make laws that will have a lasting impact, or its members are political rookies who get bogged down in petty personal disputes.

The answer depends on whom you're asking.

Two years into the term, with five of seven members newcomers to political office, council observers say the group's performance rates a solid B+.

There is criticism, however. Some observers say council

members need to improve their attitudes. No congeniality award will be given this year, they say.

Council members contend that they've worked hard to protect the environment, preserve farmland, spare services from the strains of development and solve the county's trash problems.

And, several council members believe they're working weltogether.

"The achievements of the council are really landmarks in the history of this county," said Jeffrey D. Wilson, council president.

"We're working on setting the policy for the next decade, and thnext generation. As a group, we've matured," he said.

Halfway into their four-year term, council members on their owhave initiated three key pieces of legislation -- one creating new guidelines for rubble fills where construction debris is dumped, one limiting the locations of adult bookstores, and one aimed at preserving trees.

"Most initiatives, however, have come from the countexecutive," said David S. Shrodes, chairman of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee, and a veteran council-watcher. "This is pretty much a caretaker council.

"A lot of the council members were surprised they were electedespecially the Republicans, and they don't want to make any waves that would hurt their future re-election plans."

Mr. Shrodes criticizes Republicans for not pressing theiadvantage -- five of seven members.

"With a five-Republican majority, they had pretty much a veto-proof council -- it takes four votes to pass legislation and five to override an executive veto," said Mr. Shrodes.

"They could have caused political gridlock if they wanted to, but they never came up with any innovative legislation," he said.

Local Republicans also fault the council members for not showing more leadership, and for not being able to get along very well.

"I'd like to see a little more civility," said Glenn A. Brown, vice chairman of the Harford County Republican Central Committee. "I've felt there has been a lot of petty bickering going on that really should have been quelled by strong leadership."

And "not only didn't they press their advantage, they took no guidance from other Republicans in the county," said Mr. Brown.

"Overall, though, I'd give them a solid B+," he said.

J. Robert Hooper, the former District D councilman, concedes that this council "is still new at it."

"And I'm not sure at two years in office that I was as far ahead asome of them are, with the exception of knowing more about the budget," said Mr. Hooper.

The only real problem, say former council members, is thaseveral council members, including Mr. Wilson and Democratic Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, Dist. C, can't forget they were citizen activists.

"The problem is that as activists they get into trouble," said statSen. Habern W. Freeman, who was council president from 1974 to 1978. "The tree bill [with its restrictions on how many trees can be cut] is a real bugaboo" for developers. "All of them play to the crowd," said Mr. Freeman.

The council's record on rubble fills, and relations with thMaryland Department of the Environment, are examples of how the group has approached public policy from an activist standpoint.

In 1991, in response to citizen complaints about watecontamination and roach problems at two rubble fills where construction debris is dumped, the council passed tough zoning legislation, establishing a minimum size for the fills and limiting their locations.

The new law virtually ensured that a rubble fill proposed bMaryland Reclamation Associates Inc. could not open, even with a state operating permit.

The council is now defending itself in lawsuits brought bMaryland Reclamation.

Then last year, Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-Dist. E, known for his "common-sense" approach to legislation, introduced a resolution urging that the state Department of the Environment be dismantled.

"I also think we view our role differently in regards to the health department," said Barry Glassman, Dist. D, noting that the council, sitting as the Board of Public Health, keeps a close eye on rubble fill operations and potential pollution problems.

If nothing else, the current council tries very hard to listen to thpublic's concerns, especially on environmental issues.

"I used the skills I learned as an activist to get some of thilegislation through," said Mrs. Pierno, who, with Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, R-Dist. A, introduced a tree preservation bill shortly after taking office in December 1990.

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