By the juxtaposition -- strictly...

WE WERE STRUCK

March 06, 1996

WE WERE STRUCK by the juxtaposition -- strictly unintentional -- of two stories in The Sun yesterday. One was about Howard County's bonds being upgraded by one of the major ratings services, a substantial breakthrough that will drive down the government's cost of borrowing by tens of thousands of dollars a year.

The adjacent article detailed an ongoing feud on the Howard County Council that has become so petty as to prove an embarrassment to the jurisdiction.

Darrel Drown, the council president, was fairly well crowing about the bond rating, and deservedly so. Howard now has the top mark from two of three rating services; in Maryland, only the state and Montgomery and Baltimore counties fare better.

Yet we wonder what Wall Street would think of the penny ante squabble enveloping the body over which Mr. Drown presides. He believes that colleague C. Vernon Gray violated a limit of $4,800 that the council set on expenses last October. Mr. Drown contends that Mr. Gray owes the county $1,300 because he has spent $6,116 on county-related business dating back to the start of this fiscal year, July 1. Mr. Gray counters that he has only spent $3,200 since October, when the spending cap was set, and that the cap is not retroactive. Because Mr. Gray refuses to pay what Mr. Drown insists he owes, the council declined to approve a $30 voucher for Mr. Gray to attend a Chamber of Commerce function. This dispute is beyond political. It has gotten personal. And it could drag down the business of running Howard County.

Unless Mr. Drown can produce a transcript of testimony that this policy change was specified to be retroactive to last July, he should back off. Mr. Gray has made it clear he understands he has $1,600 left this year, and the cap is indisputable for next year. We hope the message is getting through that budget realities demand that he alter past practices. (He contends that he is using his county-issued car phone less and that his expenses last quarter were due to government conferences at national and state levels.)

Wall Street just affirmed the professionalism of Howard's operation. The council's sideshow -- over .0005 percent of the county budget -- accomplishes the opposite.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

What would Wall Street think?; Council's petty feud in contrast with upbeat upgrade of bond rating.

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