Stationery Government in Harford

February 24, 1993

Report Card: County Council at Mid-term

Members of the Harford County Council are getting personalized official stationery for the first time, to emphasize that letters reflect only the views of the writer and not of the entire body.

It's a formality long ignored, but that indefatigable correspondent, council president Jeffrey D. Wilson, has increasingly taken pen in hand to express his controversial stands on issues that are not necessarily shared by fellow council members whose names are printed on the letterhead. It's been especially galling to colleagues because his chosen causes affect crucial council budget decisions.

That epistolary chapter of council history reflects the distinctive character of the current council, now more than halfway through its four-year term. Five Republicans and two Democrats, all but one of them serving their first elected term in office, are finding their own ways without political tradition and obligations. Partisan politics seldom plays a role in their differences, which are mostly defined by background and constituency.

While the members may exhibit a jealous individuality, there's a collegial concern that the council has been seen as a minor nuisance or a rubber stamp by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

They have been vexed by the lack of information from the executive on issues ranging from qualifications of appointed county officials to the troublesome history of a landfill they were asked to approve.

As for legislative initiative, that's been largely an oxymoron for two years. Theresa Pierno, elected by an environmentalist groundswell, did champion a strong reforestation bill to enactment. Bills on adult bookstores and rubblefill policy are the only other bills from this largely caretaker council.

Mr. Wilson's visible personal spats with Ms. Rehrmann have thankfully faded, but he has yet to advance his own agenda, while supporting hers.

There's a learning curve for a newcomer council, especially a part-time council. But given the voter backlash that ousted most incumbents in 1990 -- and the 30 percent pay raise for new council members -- Harford could have expected more activism and ideas from the new faces.

The council continues to challenge Ms. Rehrmann's hoarding of surplus "rainy day" funds, keeping them out of the operating budget. That is a healthy debate that validates the checks and balances of the executive-council system.

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