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Solid County Leadership


As administrations change in Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford and Baltimore counties, we pay tribute to four executives who left office yesterday with a legacy of solid contributions. Baltimore County's Dennis F. Rasmussen and Howard's Elizabeth Bobo were stymied in their re-election bids; Anne Arundel's O. James Lighthizer and Harford's Habern W. Freeman Jr. had to abide by two-term charter limitations.

The departure of Mr. Rasmussen caps a 16-year period in which three Democratic executives transformed Baltimore County from a semi-rural jurisdiction into a modern, urbanized county. Mr. Rasmussen continued the reforms of his predecessors, Theodore G. Venetoulis and Donald P. Hutchinson, especially in the crucial area of growth-management, and institutionalized honest and open government.

Baltimore County's new executive, Roger Hayden, a latter-day Republican, presides over a jurisdiction that is much changed. He should think twice about junking the good government and skilled management Mr. Rasmussen bestowed on the county.

In Anne Arundel and Harford counties, Mr. Lighthizer and Mr. Freeman inherited governments deep in debt. Through prudent spending policies they turned things around. Mr. Lighthizer, named state transportation secretary, also instituted ambitious environmental programs that will benefit Arundel residents. As for Mr. Freeman -- elected in November as a state senator -- he leaves Harford in good shape, thanks to his pay-as-you-go construction policy and his determination to concentrate growth along the I-95 corridor.

Howard County's Ms. Bobo tried to tackle the thorny issues of growth control and agricultural preservation in the state's fastest-growing county. But her moderate approach of balancing various interests failed to satisfy voters. Sandwiched between the Washington and Baltimore areas, Howard is a complex county. Its residents have conflicting loyalties and commuting patterns; its high land prices, scattered development and wealth make it difficult to solve problems such as affordable housing and mass transportation.

Each of these county executives insisted on honest government that delivered improved services to local residents. They dared to tackle unpopular issues in their rapidly changing jurisdictions during the go-go years of the 1980s. That is no mean achievement.

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