Robey keeps Rutter on job

Community activists say planning director is pro-development

`A good chemistry'

County executive says planner's knowledge of area is invaluable

June 30, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

In a move that pleases developers but angers most community activists, Howard County Executive James N. Robey is keeping Joseph W. Rutter Jr., his controversial planning director, along with every other department head he inherited from Charles I. Ecker, his Republican predecessor.

"I'm keeping Joe Rutter. I never met anyone in my life who has his knowledge of Howard County," Robey told a small group of county Chamber of Commerce members at a breakfast meeting yesterday. "I wasn't going to make a change for the sake of making a political change," he said, explaining that he wants to maintain continuity in government.

Robey was elected last year amid popular resentment of congestion brought on by development. Now -- with Rutter a central player -- his administration is crafting a new 10-year General Plan that could be Robey's most important legacy.

Defending Rutter, Robey said, "The theory that the planning department approves everything that comes down the pike is not true" -- a view disputed by people like John J. McDermott, a Dayton Community Association activist.

"It appears at times that Joe Rutter has the interest of the developer at heart more than the health and welfare of his county," McDermott said.

Rutter, 52, is a 32-year county employee and has been planning director for eight years. He said he wanted to keep his job, despite possibilities elsewhere.

"It was not my choice to go elsewhere, and I had that opportunity," the Howard native said.

Rutter had feelers from Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, sources say, or could have gone into private industry.

He said he's "had a good chemistry" with Robey, adding that Robey is someone "I would enjoy working with and for."

Rutter said that despite complaints from citizens about development, he is proud that Howard County is known among planners nationally as a leader in growth management and orderly development.

"As much as everyone complains about Howard County, I feel good when I go to Boston or Seattle," he said. "What's fun is to go to a conference and so often I can say, `been there, done that.' "

The announcement yesterday ends months of uncertainty since Robey took office in December, but the controversy may just be beginning.

"This is a great opportunity to bring new ideas, people and faces and move the county forward," said Amy Mooney, president of the Wheatfield Homeowners Association and a founder of Montgomery Road Citizens for Responsible Government, in the Ellicott City area. "Having dead wood and old blood doesn't lead the county forward," she said.

"We are disappointed," said Harry J. Brodie, president of the Beaufort Park Citizens Association, one of the south county groups fighting several large mixed-use developments that would add about 2,600 homes to that area.

"We seem to be headed towards Ecker II," Brodie said, referring to Ecker's reputation among some as being too friendly to developers. "He [Robey] hasn't done anything to live up to his [election campaign] statement that he thought development was taking place too rapidly in southern Howard County."

Not every community leader feels that way.

Kevin Doyle, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, said Rutter has been a great help in devising ways of improving his older community, which straddles U.S. 1 in the county's northeast corner.

"We're real pleased. We've always had a real good working relationship with Joe," he said.

Doyle made a point that several County Council members have also made -- that Rutter is simply carrying out policies and laws created by elected officials.

"I make an assumption that Robey will have a different policy on some of these issues. There will be a different philosophy," said County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat who approves of keeping Rutter.

Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a west county Republican, praised the move for keeping the county's leadership consistent.

Business leaders concurred.

"I think the stability within the Howard County government is always a very good reflection on a county from a business perspective," said Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co., which plans to build a large mixed-use community in southern Howard County.

"They [county department heads] are very professional and know their business very, very well and are all respected in their industry. I think that's terrific," he said, adding that he hopes his praise "doesn't put the [political] curse of death on them."

Michael G. Reimer, president of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and a former landscape architect, also praised Rutter, approving of his reappointment.

Rutter's position pays $95,638 as of Thursday, when a general 3.4 percent pay raise for county employees takes effect.

Robey said reappointment doesn't mean a guaranteed job for four years. "They have to produce," he said, adding that voters should wait before jumping to conclusions. "Let's see what we've got in four years."

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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