Monday, December 1, 2014

Change is New for Howard County

As Amanda Yeager notes in the Howard County Times, today marks the changing of the guard for Howard County government as County Executive-elect Kittleman is sworn in and we welcome my friend Jon Weinstein to the County Council.

Reading this short piece, I realized just how much I had become "used to" the current cast of characters.  I've always described the County Council as being similar to the Supreme Court in that different members see the same issue different ways.  Some will be working on the procedural aspect of a vote (i.e., "counting to three/four/five").  Others have more significant policy concerns that guide their decision-making, whether it be environment, arts, or fiscal impact.  Then there are the "head-bones-connected-to-the-neck-bone" votes that are influenced by other elected officials who do not sit on the Council, but have a vested interest in the outcome, whether that be a state legislator or the County Executive.

There has been a great deal of talk about what private actors have sway on votes in the County Council , but I think that's unfair and probably a narrative that makes more sense during campaign season than governing season.  I've spent the last six years spending more attention to the County Council than most and I just don't see it.

There will be new interpersonal relationships and alliances.  Jon is going to set his own dynamic, but expect him to be very similar to Courtney Watson in how he makes decisions.  The one thing I like most about Jon is that he is someone who can unpack an issue and see it from a completely different angle than the manner it is being presented.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out with the Council.

And then there's the elephant in the room of having dual-party governance.  Our County Charter presumes cooperation between the Council and Executive, with each being a check on the other.  Democrats have a veto-override majority, but it is too soon to talk about vetoes.

Most interesting of all will be to see how the termed-out Council-members (everyone but Jon) use their last four years.  There will be legacy building, with an expected emphasis on poverty-ameliorating measures and the arts, but there will also be eyes on Election 2018.  The partisan dynamic can put those two elements at cross-purposes: Cooperate to get things done or McConnell the whole thing to hold serve for the next round?

Four years is a long time.  I expect a little bit of both, but it will take some time for us to get used to the new crew, even if we have many returning members.  I wish I could be there tonight for the Inauguration, but am also enjoying every minute spent with my family after far too many months giving that time away.  What I would say to all of those who share the stage tonight is that you've earned a great deal of potential to make this great place even better, improve the lives of our least fortunate, and invest in our future.  That potential is spent every day you're in office, whether you use it or not.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!