Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Balancing Act

On the one hand, ladies and gentleman, you have the County Executive. Newly elected to the post in a switch of power which buoyed Republicans and stunned Democrats. He has points to prove and promises to keep. He feels he has a mandate and momentum.

On the other hand you have the County Council. All have been duly elected by the public to represent their various districts and constituents. They are representative of what has been (in recent years) the traditional distribution of the parties in Howard County: four Democrats and one Republican.

Now in one sense this situation favors the Council. They have more experience. They have followed the process before and they have worked with each other before. They know the ropes. And yet the Executive has many opportunities to set goals, steer the course, even change it.

All this brings us to last night's Council Meeting.

Mr. Kittleman wanted a vote on his appointee for the Planning Board, Susan Garber. This article by Amanda Yeager lays out the situation. The County Council had some concerns about the process of appointments and had asked for further information. The Executive declined to provide it.

But wait. That's not all. In an attempt to force a vote last night, the Executive's office put up a "petition" on the Kittleman website. Tom Coale described this angle of the story on his blog HoCoRising yesterday. I use the word petition in quotes because each online signature generates a letter to the County Council, not exactly how a petition generally works.

If the results of last night's meeting are any indication, the Council was not impressed. The vote on Ms. Garber's nomination, among other items, was tabled. If you live for political theater, the last twenty four hours in hocopolitics have been thrilling. But if the goal is getting the work of the county done, we remain at an impasse.

Here's my take. As much as I supported the former County Executive, it sometimes seemed that when things didn't go well that the underlying message was, "we had all these great ideas and you just didn't appreciate us." While that may have been true, it sometimes came across as petulant and/or whiny. Not a good look, in my opinion.

What I see now, less than a year into Mr. Kittleman's term, is this message, "I was elected by a majority to bring my Republican way of life and government to Howard County and the mean old County Council won't let me." Not only is this not a good look but at its core it is fundamentally untrue.

I guess everyone needs a message they can cling to in defeat but this one concerns me. The County Council was elected by the people every bit as much as the County Executive was. They are not some obstacle in a game to be taken out by force or worked around by trickery. Their work is, quite simply, embedded in the very game itself.

The power is meant to be spread around. The people are meant to have representation through that balance. Neither side will get far by telling the other, "get out of my way." And there's a reason for that.

I still want to give Mr. Kittleman the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that he is an intelligent man whose heart is more or less in the right place, whose sole mission is to be the best County Executive he can possibly be. I am trying to remain open-minded. His chance to do that is not over by any means. But hitting up your donor lists to try to massage a County Council vote is not the way to do that.

Political theater may work that way, but leadership doesn't.





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