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Changing the seal shouldn't be done on a whim [editorial from The Aegis]

It's one thing for a new chief executive to renovate his or her office space. In the case of Barry Glassman, it makes perfect sense to have put a fresh coat of paint on the office suite and change the décor. The replacement of the carpet in the office is another perfectly reasonable move. Carpet, especially in public places, wears out and worn out carpet can add a certain unpleasant aroma that only gets worse with age and wet weather.

The outlay by the new Glassman administration on such upgrades to the office of the person responsible for managing Harford County government was money well spent. It just wouldn't make sense to allow a new administration to operate out of a hand-me-down office.

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Another change made by the Glassman administration, however, isn't so innocuous, the changing of the county seal.

In recent years, the seal's border has contained the words "Harford County" across the top, and "Maryland" at the bottom, white letters on a circular blue background. The change: the top half of the circle will be blue, and the bottom half green.

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It's not the first change for the county's seal. One in place years ago had the blue "Harford County – Maryland" band surrounded by another gold band.

In more recent years, the county shield and slogan have been more prominent than they were in earlier versions.

The Glassman administration says the change is perfectly legal; he ran the proposal by the county law department.

Be that as it may, however, making changes to public symbols is not something that should be done at the whim of an individual, even if that individual was elected by the people.

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In recent U.S. history, a parallel move was made by William H. Rehnquist after he was elevated to the post of chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Rehnquist took it upon himself to re-design the robe worn by the chief justice to distinguish the attire from that worn by the other justices. The change was the simple addition of four gold stripes to each sleeve. While there was nothing precluding the change, in the heavily traditional institution of the nation's high court, the move prompted a fair amount of criticism, at least in circles where such things are noticed.

Rehnquist's successor, current chief justice John Roberts Jr., has gone back to the egalitarian tradition of wearing the same all black robe of his court colleagues. The question has been left open as to whether the change would have become part of the official chief justice attire had Rehnquist gone through a more public process in making the change.

The same goes for the new Glassman seal. His spokeswoman, Cindy Mumby, said the change "brightens the look of the seal." There's something to be said for that sentiment. The shade of green that was added brings a certain agricultural feel to the seal.

Still, representative democracy doesn't necessarily react kindly to high profile changes made on the word of a single person. It may well come to pass that the Glassman administration is successful in advancing a popular civic agenda, in which case the change to the seal is likely to stick. If, however, the administration falters, the change made to the seal could well end up being viewed in an unflattering light.

Only time will tell if the change ends up being accepted by the people who put Glassman in office, but such acceptance would have been more likely had the process of making the change been presented as a proposal rather than an order.

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