New Howard chairman wants to level with public

November 29, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

On the eve of his ascent to chairmanship of the Howard County County Council, Charles C. Feaga already has thoughts of stepping down.

Mr. Feaga, who is expected next week to become the council's first Republican chairman, wants the council to stop meeting on an elevated dais.

Instead, he would seat members at the same level as citizens who testify in the council's auditorium.

The council's curved desk -- 6 feet above the auditorium floor -- puts a psychological barrier between council members and citizens, he said.

"It's a little bit intimidating to the people speaking," Mr. Feaga said of the arrangement in the George Howard county office building's Banneker Room.

"We're looking down at them and they're looking up at us,and it's not a very comfortable situation."

At least three of the other four council members agree, saying they will support the move if the logistics can be worked out, including changes to the public address system and lighting for cable television.

"I think it's an excellent idea. I don't know anybody who has liked being up there," said Councilwoman-elect Mary Lorsung, a Democrat whose district includes west Columbia, Scaggsville and Fulton. "I'm just not sure how you do it physically."

Ms. Lorsung, now an assistant to outgoing Councilman Paul Farragut, also a Democrat, said she was concerned that there still be enough room for the council's staff, representatives of the county executive and legal counsel.

They now occupy the floor in front of the dais.

Republican Darrel Drown agreed with Mr. Feaga that "it's very intimidating for people to come into that room and to talk up to us."

If the change can be done, Mr. Drown said, "it means that we are a little more approachable. I think it means that we're not the high and mighty council, and that's good."

Councilman-elect Dennis Schrader, a Republican who will represent south county, also favors the move "if it works without making major modifications."

Democrat C. Vernon Gray of east Columbia and Jessup, was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

The dais has bothered some council members since the auditorium was built in the mid-1970s, recalls outgoing state Sen. Thomas Yeager, a 13th District Democrat and a member of the first council to sit on the lofty dais.

"We really didn't like it. Quite frankly, we were even considering stopping the construction of the whole office building," Mr. Yeager said, in part because of the design of the council auditorium. The building was opened in 1977.

Instead, the council at that time decided to forgo the raised seats, Mr. Yeager said.

"We were down on the floor, we were down in the pit, so to speak," he recalled, "but the recording mechanisms, the sound system . . . didn't work out too well, so we decided to return to the high position."

The Banneker Room already has been overhauled this year. During the council's summer break, it was fitted with a wireless headset system for the hearing-impaired, footlights for the visually impaired and new carpeting. Daniel W. Bennett, county chief of general engineering and architecture, refused to comment yet on the logistics of Mr. Feaga's idea, saying he wanted to hear the proposal from the chairman-apparent himself.

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