Shank for council president Sun endorsement: His sense of Harford's needs recommend him over council colleague Decker.

August 26, 1998

ONE OF THE more complicated choices on the ballot for Harford County Republicans next month is for president of the county council. First-term council members Mark S. Decker and Mitch Shank are vying for the nomination. The Democrats have no contested primary, with one candidate: Gunther G. Hirsch, a past mayor and councilman in Havre de Grace.

Unlike most metropolitan counties in Maryland, where councils choose a member from among themselves to run meetings, Harford voters elect their council president. The arrangement produces greater public accountability, but not necessarily a council leader with the requisite administrative and team-building skills. The last two presidents often distracted the council from working with the administration. That must improve.

Mr. Decker, 38, is a liquor store owner and former commissioner and mayor in Bel Air, where he has lived since childhood. He is staunchly pro-business.

His sound record, however, was disturbingly blemished last year: He received probation-before-judgment on a misdemeanor battery charge for grabbing the chest of a female janitor. He later sought to have the record expunged to clear his name.

The incident, and his explanation of it, were bizarre. It led us in the direction of endorsing Mr. Shank. Further examination helped solidify that decision.

Mr. Shank's local roots also run deep. His grandfather, R. Madison Mitchell, is immortalized as one of Maryland's great bay artisans at the Decoy Museum in Havre de Grace. Mr. Shank, 42, is a strong backer of the museum, and recreation and tourism in general. He is a frequent volunteer in the schools.

He has a sophisticated sense of the county's needs: a more diverse employment base, beyond distribution warehouses and retail stores; a specialized magnet school to ease school overcrowding; a council seat for the underrepresented, heavy populated Abingdon area; and relieving the council of its conflicting role as county Board of Zoning Appeals.

He seems more wary than Mr. Decker of the corrosive impact of overdevelopment. Last winter, for example, Mr. Shank drafted a bill that won council approval, 5-2, to require greater buffers between quarries and residences. Mr. Decker decried it as "anti-business."

Mr. Shank has worked as an aide to the two Republicans running for executive. Should he and either of them win, perhaps the legislative and executive branches wouldn't routinely be at loggerheads the next four years.

Tomorrow: Districts A, B and C

Pub Date: 8/26/98

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