Contracting for Howard County's next executive


September 20, 1998|By HAROLD JACKSON

OK, HOW MANY of you have a "bad contractor" story you can tell? In Howard County -- where there are a lot of people building houses, adding on to houses, remodeling, painting or repairing houses -- there are also a lot of "bad contractor" stories.

I can tell at least two; one about the people I hired to do some wall-papering and the other about the shoddy work done to repair my deck. In each instance, I had convinced myself that the contractors were worthy of a contract. In each case, they proved me wrong.

Journalistic ethics -- mine -- prevent me from naming the scoundrels in this column. But if you ask me when I'm not performing an official duty, I'll talk.

Contracting for a service is like any other transaction. Let the buyer beware. There is usually some recourse when you don't get what you paid for. But calling back the same sorry workmen to correct their mistakes only raises apprehension of more shoddiness.

Voter beware

These painful episodes teach us to be more careful when we choose a contractor. The same lesson should be applied when we vote. The cost of repairs is too high when we elect the wrong people.

In Howard County, perhaps the most important decision we have to make at the polls in November is who should take over when Charles I. Ecker ends his eight years as county executive.

Mr. Ecker, whose political career appears to have reached an end with his defeat Tuesday in the Republican primary for governor, was the right executive for Howard in the years he served.

The former school-system administrator successfully steered the county through the recession. He took a common-sense approach to growth that spurred the commercial development needed to increase revenue.

Mr. Ecker has represented honesty, integrity and fairness. He is leaving big shoes to fill. Voters must decide who is capable of doing the job right.

The Democratic candidate, former police Chief James N. Robey, has been accused of a stealth campaign while Republicans Charles C. Feaga and Dennis R. Schrader competed in the primary for their party's nomination.

The accusation isn't entirely true. With most of the media focused on the contested primaries, not much attention was given to Mr. Robey, who had no primary opposition.

More scrutiny for Robey

Now that Mr. Robey will get more scrutiny, voters should listen closely to what he has to say.

Mr. Robey seems to be a moderate on development who desires the right balance between commercial and residential growth to pay for infrastructure and schools. That differs little from Mr. Schrader, the GOP primary winner.

What voters need Mr. Robey to tell them is what kind of leader he will be. He ran the Police Department, but can he run a county?

Voters know a lot more about Mr. Schrader because of the contest he had to wage to beat Mr. Feaga. But that campaign also raised serious questions about the freshman council member.

Mr. Schrader has to dispel the notion that he will do anything to get elected.

He solicited campaign money from people with whom he does business as an executive at the University of Maryland Medical System. That may not have been illegal, but it stretched the limits of propriety.

The contributors may have given money to the Schrader campaign voluntarily, but some may have been afraid of losing the hospital's business. To his credit, Mr. Schrader gave their money back.

'The developers' friend'

His fellow Republicans aren't helping Mr. Schrader's image with their whining about his TV ads that called Mr. Feaga "the developers' friend."

True, the label could have been applied to either man, since both accepted campaign contributions from developers.

But compared with the type of venomous terminology that often is spewed in political campaigns, "the developers' friend" is pretty innocuous.

Voters may find out just what kind of leadership skills Mr. Schrader has in seeing whether he is able to mend the rift that has some in the pro-Feaga faction threatening to jump overboard and swim to Mr. Robey's skiff.

It won't be enough for Mr. Schrader to simply appeal for unity. Party allegiance these days can be a commodity to be traded.

The right Democrat?

Some of the same GOP stalwarts who recruited Democrat Chuck Ecker to run for executive as a Republican years ago would have no qualms about voting for the right Democrat this time. Law-and-order candidate Mr. Robey seems like their kind of man.

Mr. Schrader is going to have to prove his leadership by getting the "Feaga Republicans" to do more than just say they support him.

He needs them on the streets working for him. Such an impressive feat might convince voters that his craftsmanship is worthy of a contract.

Harold Jackson writes editorials about Howard County for The Sun.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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