Quiet beginning for Harford Council

February 25, 1993

Report card: county council at mid-term

When the whirlwind of anti-incumbent sentiment blew through Harford in the 1990 elections, the County Council ended up with five newcomers, one re-elected member and a short-term appointee confirmed for a full term. Voters also elected a new county executive.

Since then, the neophyte council has been learning the ropes and rituals, largely reacting to the agenda of County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann. Its reticence has been surprising, particularly since these legislators ran as fresh faces swept into office by a public demand for change. The Democratic council majority was unmistakably replaced by a Republican majority, which now had the chance to enact its own party proposals.

Characteristic of the first year or so was the high-profile personal antagonism between Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson and Mrs. Rehrmann, a hostile colloquy that threatened to block needed government action. It never did, however, and Harford County has moved ahead with programs for recycling and reforestation and farmland preservation and the first step of an adequate public facilities standard for new development.

Indeed, Mr. Wilson's recent pronouncements have irritated his council colleagues more than the county executive, as he has invoked the collective power of the entire council to bolster his personal positions. With 10 appointed months under his belt before the election, Mr. Wilson is senior to all but Joanne S. Parrott. But he can't move the other council members, except by persuasion, and his office is no rival for that of the executive. Lately, he has taken to expediting Mrs. Rehrmann's legislative programs, whose aims he shares.

Council members are getting better at quizzing administration officials about programs and legislation. But they could stand to show more initiative in proposing legislation, instead of just reacting to it. Voters gave them a 30 percent pay increase in 1990, which should spur more creative effort. A tree preservation bill, limits on adult bookstores, and a rubblefill policy are among the very few pieces of legislation to originate with this council.

The council complains about lack of information from the county executive's office on legislation, and that Mrs. Rehrmann treats the body as little more than a rubber stamp. If that's so, council members need to begin placing their own stamp on Harford's legislative agenda.

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