Deja vu all over again?

Howard County: Council's petty split over expense accounts sounded like prior administration.

January 20, 1999

THE NEW DAY expected to dawn with the election of a new Howard County Council wasn't evident in the panel's recent argument over expense accounts. Individual expense budgets were increased, but the council vote broke along the same partisan lines seen three years ago on the issue. In 1996, the council, then with a Republican majority, voted to limit each member's expenses to $4,800 a year. There was no formal limit at the time. The action was viewed as a slap at Democrat C. Vernon Gray, who typically spent more than that. He said his higher expenses were commensurate with his constituent service. Mr. Gray is council chairman now. He and two fellow Democrats, Guy J. Guzzone and Mary C. Lorsung, who make up the majority on the five-member body, voted last week to increase individual expense allowances to $7,000. Republicans Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon voted against the increase. For those expecting greater bipartisanship, it was not a good sign. Mr. Merdon, for example, moved that expenses be reduced to $4,000 a year -- hardly a productive suggestion, given that at least one council member had demonstrated a need for more expense money. On the other hand, Mr. Guzzone's remarks indicating he didn't need $7,000 suggested he voted the party line, not his convictions. Where was the leadership that might have forged a compromise? A smaller increase might have been sufficient, but raising the expense ceiling isn't unreasonable. Those who need a larger expense allowance to serve the public now have access to it. Council members who don't need $7,000 don't have to spend that much. Voters, who elect their council member by district, are the final check on whether an elected official misuses an expense account. Residents must hope this bickering over $35,000 in the $1.8 million council budget isn't a sign of things to come. Pub Date: 1/20/99 root

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