'Non-factor' Ecker looking for a new job


November 15, 1998|By Harold Jackson

WANTED: Position for experienced leader. Work history: eight years county executive; 36 years teacher and school administrator. Education: B.A., M.Ed., Ph.D. Special skills: Coaching, numbers crunching. Have calculator, will travel. Salary negotiable.

That's right, Chuck Ecker is looking for a job.

His next birthday cake may have 70 candles on it, but he's not the retiring type. Prevented by law from seeking a third term as Howard County executive, he ran for governor. Having lost that race, Mr. Ecker is looking for another challenge.

"I can't sit at home and watch TV," he said Tuesday. "They have these big, fancy new TVs, but the pictures are still the same."

The only possibility that Mr. Ecker ruled out was a return to education. But less than a month before he leaves office, he has plenty of thoughts on that subject and others facing his successor, James N. Robey.

A school tax

He couldn't sell the idea during his tenure but still believes the school board should have taxing authority. Mr. Ecker doesn't think the board would have asked for as large a budget this year if it had to ask voters, instead of the County Council, for money.

In the Nov. 3 election, candidates for posts from Orphans' Court to County Council staked out positions that saw them conveniently labeled "pro-" or "anti-" growth. All their jawing left the impression that Mr. Ecker had allowed willy-nilly development. That is hardly the case, but he agrees that adjustments are due.

"The general plan needs to be revised, and at that time I think they have to look at everything, including adequate facilities (schools, roads, sewers)," he said.

The current general plan calls for an annual increase of about 3,000 jobs and 2,500 houses. But last year the county gained 7,000 jobs and only about 2,000 new residences. It may not be necessary to take further measures to slow residential development.

Mr. Ecker hopes the next council and executive won't do anything to derail planned mixed-use developments that, along with commercial enterprises, will include construction of more than 2,000 residential units in North Laurel and Fulton within 10 years.

"Really, that's part of Gov. [Parris N.] Glendening's 'Smart Growth,' " he said. "It's in the water and sewer area and that's where you're supposed to develop, where there are highways."

Mr. Ecker said the county risks becoming "elitist" if it stops building houses because much of the existing stock is too expensive.

'My kids and your kids'

"We have to come up with a different term than 'affordable' housing because 'affordable' has a bad connotation. People say, 'You're going to bring 'those people' in.' I say those people are my kids and your kids. My kid couldn't afford to buy in Howard County. He bought in Frederick County. He's a teacher."

Although he brought the county from the recession to a AAA bond rating, Mr. Ecker acknowledges a financial goal he didn't accomplish. The county needs a long-range plan to pay for needed improvements to its storm-water management system.

A study is being conducted to determine how many drains and pipes may need to be replaced. It's a problem long relegated to out-of-sight and out-of-mind status that could cost several million dollars a year to correct.

With his political career coming to an end, Mr. Ecker says he sees one sure benefit.

"I keep kidding people. I say I'll save money on water now. I used to take three or four baths a day just trying to keep clean. The gubernatorial campaign, the dirty campaign, that just turns me off."

Shabby treatment

Mr. Ecker hasn't gotten over shabby treatment by fellow Republican Dennis R. Schrader, who ran to succeed him. Mr. Schrader supported Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Mr. Ecker supported Charles Feaga in the county executive's race. Mr. Ecker says his offers to assist the Schrader campaign in the general election were ignored.

"I told them I would be available for as much or as little as they wanted, and they wanted very little. They didn't want me. In fact, it came out in an article that I was a 'non-factor.'

"Now Schrader did ask me in the last week of the campaign to put a quote in his ad in The Sun, and probably the [Columbia] Flier, too. But I declined. I told him I didn't want to embarrass him because I was a 'non-factor.'

GOP losses

Mr. Ecker says he thinks the local Republican Party can recover from the divisive campaign that saw it lose the executive seat and its plurality on the council. But, asked if he will continue to be involved in politics, he said, "Probably not. I'm a 'non-factor.' "

For eight years, Mr. Ecker has been the most important factor in determining the course of Howard County. His successors will be making a mistake if they don't tap his insight and experience to help them find their way.

Harold Jackson writes editorials about Howard County for The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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