Towson Triumvirate

February 23, 1993

Report Card: County Council at Mid-term

If the Baltimore County Council has had a defining event, it was probably the budget deal struck with County Executive Roger Hayden last spring.

That was when the council and the executive agreed to raise the local piggyback tax rate from 50 to 55 percent. The council also took the unprecedented step of spending $7 million originally placed on the chopping block for public safety and education initiatives.

By most accounts, the deal was brokered by the Hayden administration and council members C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, Douglas Riley and William Howard. Mr. Ruppersberger and Mel Mintz were the only incumbent survivors of the 1990 election, when "throw the bums out!" fervor unseated five of seven incumbents. Besides Mr. Riley and Mr. Howard, the first-termers include Berchie Manley, Vincent Gardina and Donald Mason.

Since last year's budget deal, the Ruppersberger-Riley-Howard axis has been the council's real power. The three, in fact, have shared the chairmanship the past four years and usually can muster a majority by getting at least one more vote from among the other council members, who tend to be Johnny One Notes stuck on backyard issues.

As chairman this year, Mr. Ruppersberger has lofty plans to take advantage of the current trend toward government downsizing -- a trend that Mr. Hayden advanced considerably last week with his announcement of layoffs of county employees and a reshaping of the government structure.

Among Mr. Ruppersberger's objectives are retooling the county's personnel system and developing a new, permanent procedure for privatizing some public services. Presenting his ideas, he sounds like a man on the stump. No surprise there, since he's being touted -- largely by himself -- as a possible candidate for county executive next year.

How obvious he is about his intentions for 1994 could make for some interesting (read: tense) relations with Mr. Hayden. In fact, except for the cooperation behind the budget deal, scant give-and-take has gone on between Mr. Hayden and the legislators. The executive is so secretive about his next moves that the council often winds up learning about them from reporters.

The pols must repair their dysfunctional marriage if they're to steer Baltimore County through its fiscal ills as well as other problems that are significant to county residents.


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