Mavericks on the Loose HOWARD COUNTY

February 23, 1993

A Report Card: County Council at Mid-term

Howard County Council members confront the midpoint in their four-year terms with few accomplishments of which to boast. In fact, the council is better defined by what it hasn't accomplished.

From councilmanic redistricting (still pending) to the defeat of legislation designed to create more affordable housing, council members have shown no consistency in their political philosophy and direction.

The comprehensive rezoning of the eastern portion of the county -- more unfinished business -- has council members locked in a bitter battle with constituents over the amount of growth the two sides will accept. This issue should force the council into adopting a clear stance, but what that will be and when it will happen seem impossible to predict.

The most appropriate adjective to describe the council's current state would be rudderless.

Despite a 3-2 Democratic majority, party coalitions are infrequent. Divisiveness across party lines has resulted in strange alliances as council members have become increasingly consumed by individual, and often competing, interests.

With Democrats Shane Pendergrass, Vernon Gray and Paul Farragut rumored to be eyeing higher office -- either seats in the state legislature or the county executive post -- the rule of the day is often every man for himself. Likewise, Republicans Darryl Drown and Charles Feaga are sometimes at odds over matters reflecting the differences between their districts.

As a loose collection of political mavericks, the council's fractured ways have not produced positive results.

Council Chairwoman Pendergrass, for instance, spent part of last year as a lone ranger in a misguided attack on Coca Cola's plans to build a regional headquarters and bottling plant in Howard County.

And with no one to rein him in, Mr. Feaga flip-flopped over a proposal to bring a high-density, mixed-use development to Fulton. That move temporarily pitted him against his party leader, County Executive Charles Ecker.

Such events have come to symbolize a County Council proceeding in several directions at once, with no clear plan or objective in sight.

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