Anne Arundel's Back Seat Council ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

February 23, 1993

A Report Card: County Council at Mid-term

County government's hallowed system of checks and balances hasn't done much checking lately. Since its election two years ago, the Anne Arundel County Council has, with one notable exception, been powerless to influence, slow down or stop Executive Robert R. Neall. Time after time, the seven lawmakers have taken a back seat while he drives the government wherever he wants. And they often don't know where he's going.

Here's an example: When Mr. Neall announced how he intended to manage a property tax cap, Council Chairman David G. Boschert was right there by his side, a symbol that the legislative and executive branches were together on the issue. But later it was clear the council didn't know what was happening. Mr. Boschert said he had doubts about Mr. Neall's idea; the rest of the council didn't seem to understand it. Yet they approved it anyway -- over the objections of their own budget adviser!

More recently, the executive surprised council members with a plan to reorganize government. Once more, they were reduced to whining about how they weren't consulted. Privately, some are murmuring doubts. But is there any question the plan will sail through? No.

This council is weak enough for Mr. Neall to ignore it because no four members consistently vote the same way. Generally, the executive's three biggest allies, Republicans Carl "Dutch" Holland and Diane Evans and Democrat George Bachman, vote together. Democrats Maureen Lamb and Virginia Clagett often -- but not always -- oppose him, and Democrats Ed Middlebrooks and Mr. Boschert blow with the wind. Mr. Neall usually can find his four votes.

The only serious setback the council dealt Mr. Neall came when five members refused to sanction his site for a new county detention center. Alas, that coalition was short-lived. When it came down to deciding whose district would get the jail, no council majority could be found.

One could argue that the county hasn't stalled in gridlock, or that certain geographic interests haven't dominated it. But this council has been too submissive. If it doesn't climb into the front seat with Mr. Neall, it should at least muster enough influence to get a look at his map.

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