Middlebrooks unanimously elected to lead council

Anne Arundel

December 02, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

A lot has changed since the last time C. Edward Middlebrooks served as Anne Arundel County Council chairman.

Ten years have passed. Middlebrooks has switched to the Republican Party. Democrat Janet S. Owens has been elected county executive - twice.

But the Severn lawyer is back in the center seat after his colleagues unanimously elected him chairman of the council last night. Again, he must make good with a county executive from the opposing party, and again the county is facing a money crunch.

"These economic times are far more challenging than what we faced back then," Middlebrooks, 48, said.

After laying off police officers this year, Owens has begun discussing possibly increasing several taxes, including the income tax, next fiscal year.

Middlebrooks has generally seen eye to eye with Owens since his election last year, often more so than his Democratic counterparts. When the council undid Owens' plan to freeze the pay for several employee unions, Middlebrooks voted in support of Owens. He sharply criticized Democrat Barbara D. Samorajczyk for voting against the county executive.

Middlebrooks even supported Owens in her 2002 campaign against Republican Phillip D. Bissett. Records show he contributed $700 to her re-election bid.

But he said yesterday that he will not support an income tax increase, and he will reserve judgment on the others.

"I'm going continue to lobby him and work on him; try to get him to look at alternatives," Owens said.

The council chairman runs the council meetings and sets much of its agenda. The position also involves working with the county executive to reach compromises on legislation.

Former County Executive Robert R. Neall, a Republican when he held the post, said he remembers then-Democrat Middlebrooks as a blunt and quick-working council chairman.

"He's no-nonsense," Neall said, "a little on the impatient side."

That style carries over to Middlebrooks' meeting management style. He half-joked on the night of the college basketball championship game in April that he would like to have the meeting finished before tipoff. On several other occasions he has attempted to reach compromises with the intention of ending prolonged debate.

He said he will focus on shortening meetings that have routinely been running until midnight. Late meetings, he said, prevent residents from commenting on issues.

"A lot of times people leave, and I want those voices to be heard," he said.

Samorajczyk of the Annapolis area is known for asking county officials a litany of questions during the Monday council meetings. "I think you're going to see me try to make sure Mrs. Samorajczyk has the answers to her questions ahead of time," Middlebrooks said.

He served his first council term as a Democrat from 1990 to 1994. In 1994, he joined the Republican Party after then-Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a Democrat, backed another Democrat's bid for Middlebrooks' council seat. Middlebrooks then challenged Wagner and won a term in the state Senate.

Middlebrooks replaces Severna Park Republican Cathleen M. Vitale, who served as chairwoman for the past year.

Four Republicans hold seats on the seven-member council. After last year's election, they reached an informal agreement that each would serve a year as chairman and a year as vice chairman.

Middlebrooks was vice chairman for the past year.

Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican who was a teen-ager the last time Middlebrooks served as chairman, was unanimously elected vice chairman last night.

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