Surveying Harford's Future

May 27, 1994

The opinions of Harford County residents are in great demand these days, and it's not just a ploy to sell soap or insurance or even a political candidate.

Government is actively soliciting these grassroot views with an eye to actually improving its performance and services, not just to beg for a comforting pat on the back at election time.

Last year, the county school board sent out questionnaires to 16,000 citizens -- people with children in school and those without -- asking them to grade a report card on the system.

The encouraging response of 57 percent showed that citizens were generally pleased, but that the system needed to improve its public communications, expand teacher training and further emphasize instruction in computers and technology.

This month, the Harford County Futures Commission began distributing 50,000 copies of a public survey on a wide range of issues that will affect the county well into the next century.

The nonpartisan community group hopes to reach at least 80 percent of households with the questionnaire that asks for opinions on the quality of government and public services, as well as the private sector in areas such as housing, retail business and cultural amenities.

The commission of 31 volunteers, which has been analyzing government studies on demographics and trends, will follow up with a series of town meetings and a final "Focus 2000" report of conclusions in December. That report date is important. It comes after the November elections, hoping to avoid the taint of political manipulation. The group was appointed by County Executive Eileen Rehrmann in January, to initial public skepticism that its activities would become entwined with the political campaigns raging throughout 1994.

But the survey's focus on more than current politics, and its ambitious plan to reach most residents, commends itself to serious consideration. No doubt politics will inject itself into the survey responses and the public hearings.

But that's a vital part of the political process: soliciting public opinion, developing ideas and commenting on them.

Helping to guide Harford into the 21st century, this broad survey of public perspectives and views merits the time and attention of all county residents. By focusing on issues and perceptions, instead of political personalities, the commission's work can provide a sound blueprint for the county well beyond the next four-year term of office.

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