Harford newcomer signals change

Council President-elect Boniface raises eyebrows with proposal to replace staff member

November 15, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,sun reporter

Harford County Council's president-elect, a political newcomer who was swept into office last week after running a campaign centered on fostering teamwork, irked some colleagues by informing the council administrator that he intends to replace her.

Billy Boniface told the administrator, Barbara J. O'Connor, of his plans Monday, according to council members familiar with the exchange. Council staff members serve at the pleasure of the council, but such a change would require approval by a majority of the members.

The move signals Boniface's stated desire to be a more proactive president as Harford grapples with growth issues, including a new round of comprehensive rezoning and preparations for the thousands of new jobs expected to arrive at Aberdeen Proving Ground. But increasing the profile of the position could put the Republican at odds with some members of the council.

"The presidency is a job of discreet leadership," said Councilman Richard C. Slutzky, a Republican from Aberdeen who won a second term last month. "When council decisions are made, they're made by the majority of the council. You have to vote."

While other council members are elected by district, the president is elected by a countywide vote.

Boniface, a 42-year-old horse breeder, said yesterday he would not discuss potential moves until he is sworn in next month and said he would sit down with council members to gauge their opinions on a range of issues. But he reiterated his desire to improve how the council operates, which could include a new council administrator, he said.

"It is my understanding that there is a closer relationship between that position and the president than there is with other council members," Boniface said. "Historically, when there is a new council president elected, usually the council administrator's position is changed."

O'Connor, who became council administrator four years ago, declined to comment yesterday. She helps set the council agenda and posts notices of public hearings on proposed legislation in the local newspaper. She drew criticism from County Executive David R. Craig in the spring after the comprehensive rezoning bill had to be shelved because a hearing was not advertised in time. But council members applauded the work she has done.

Boniface "said he wanted to be a consensus-builder - I think that this was not the way to start," said Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat from Joppatowne.

Boniface defeated Robert S. Wagner, a four-term councilman, in the primary and coasted to victory in the general election, capturing one of the widest margins of victory of any race in Harford.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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