Can this marriage be saved?

February 24, 1993

Report card: county council at mid-term

Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Mick Jagger and Jerri Hall. The Baltimore County Council and County Executive Roger Hayden.

They all have in common rocky marriages. The difference is, Chuck and Di and Mick and Jerri can get divorced whenever; the council and Mr. Hayden must tough it out for at least another 22 months.

Some observers say council chairman Dutch Ruppersberger's not-so-subtle hints that he'll run for county executive in 1994 could create a tense relationship between the council and Mr. Hayden. That would be a step up from the situation of roughly the past year, when there has been virtually no relationship at all. The executive is so secretive about his sundry moves that the council often ends up learning about them from reporters.

On at least one notable occasion, however, the relationship has clicked. That was in the budget deal struck last spring, when the council and Mr. Hayden agreed to raise the local piggyback tax rate from 50 to 55 percent. With Mr. Hayden's OK, the council also took the unprecedented step of spending money originally on the chopping block, diverting it to public safety and education initiatives.

The deal was brokered by the Hayden administration and council members Dutch Ruppersberger, Douglas Riley and William Howard. Mr. Ruppersberger and Mel Mintz were the only members to have survived the 1990 election, when anti-incumbent sentiment unseated five of the seven office-holders. In addition to Messrs. Riley and Howard, the first-termers include Berchie Manley, Vincent Gardina and Donald Mason.

Since last year's budget deal, the Ruppersberger-Riley-Howard axis is seen as 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 members, who tend to be Johnny One Notes stuck on backyard issues.

As chairman this year, Mr. Ruppersberger plans to offer ideas for government downsizing, a trend Mr. Hayden advanced two weeks ago with his announcement of layoffs and a reshaping of the government structure. But if he is too obvious about his aspirations for higher office, Mr. Ruppersberger could just make a bad relationship worse.

Can this marriage be saved? For the sake of residents worried about the myriad problems that the politicians must tackle, it better be.

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