Ruppersberger's experienced debut Dutch treat: Baltimore County executive builds broad support with open style.

February 07, 1996

IN HIS FIRST year as Baltimore County executive, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III has sailed over some of the same bumps in the road that gave so much pain to his predecessor, but the Cockeysville lawyer better knows the treacherous road of county government and is, consequently, a better navigator.

His nine years on the County Council served him well in dealing with that body. He has shown himself open to consultation with employee unions that were ignored by Roger Hayden, and paid particular attention to the hiring of county managers, who can make or break political reputations. The business community largely views him as one of its own, while waiting to see how his planned privatization of economic development will work.

As new president of the Maryland Association of Counties, Mr. Ruppersberger has earned the respect of other local leaders and has reforged a sense of unity among the county's delegation to the General Assembly.

With state funding for schools the county's legislative priority this year, he is seeking laws to consolidate county government control over education spending and performance. Gone is Stuart Berger, who had been a lightening rod for criticism as school superintendent, giving Mr. Ruppersberger room for closer cooperation with the folks at school headquarters.

Still, there are patches of discontent. Some residents are angry at his halving of the property tax discount in order to cut closing costs. County employees, who strongly backed his campaign, haven't had a pay raise in two years and have been given little hope of one this year.

A vocal advocate of regionalism, Mr. Ruppersberger nonetheless mightily balked at a Baltimore City plan to transfer welfare families to the suburbs. To his credit, he has avoided inflaming the issue with divisive rhetoric, and continues to press for a modified resolution.

Although he was all over the tube following the recent blizzard, some northern county residents were grumbling about having to wait days to see a snow plow. Last week's storms provided an apt metaphor for the new executive: His aging, rapidly changing jurisdiction will throw heavy problems his way, but you can count on that fact that Mr. Ruppersberger will at least try to project an aura of leadership. To date, no one's been asking, "Where's Dutch?"

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