Elect leaders, they trust them to carry out a...

WHEN VOTERS

July 30, 1998

WHEN VOTERS elect leaders, they trust them to carry out a program. Elected leaders need freedom to do that -- not absolute freedom, because power is easily abused, but sufficient latitude to do the job.

Being able to fill high-level, policy-making jobs with people of their own choosing is vital. But in Baltimore County, the executive's power to appoint is restricted to department heads. Technically, he is not free to name even his own top aides. These rules, more rigid than in other nearby jurisdictions, were enacted 42 years ago in response to corrupt administrations.

The restrictions are excessive. Today, they are more an impediment to good government than a guardian of it. For some time, county executives -- looking for a way to appoint high-level people who share their mission -- have wormed their way around the rules by naming "part-time" aides who work 40-plus hours a week.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the most recent user of this tactic, feels the charade must end. He wants a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot so voters can approve a change in the county charter to give the executive more leeway to appoint certain high-level, non-union employees.

Mr. Ruppersberger's original, badly worded proposal could have covered hundreds of positions. It sparked opposition from public employee unions. That unnerved the County Council, which plans to decide Monday whether to put the charter amendment on the ballot. Even after the proposal was scaled back to fewer than 30 appropriate jobs out of 7,000 in county government, some unions still balked, and council members remained squeamish.

This week, Mr. Ruppersberger backed down, limiting the amendment to the executive's staff.

No good reasons remain for the council to object to this sensible proposal. In November, county voters should support it. The executive they elect to run the county should have say over who fills policy-making posts in his or her administration.

Pub Date: 7/30/98

HD Untying executive's hands; Baltimore County: Council should place question on administration hires on November ballot.

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