ELLICOTT CITY - Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker spent most of Tuesday getting started on his Monday night promise to provide a "friendly, open and responsive" administration.

Up at 5 a.m., as is his custom, the one-time Carroll County deputy school superintendent was in his new office by 8 for an informal breakfast of orange juice, bagels, cheese and sweet rolls with the staff of nearby administrative offices.

The staff greeted him with three helium-filled "welcome" balloons and a big "Welcome Chuck" sign, hand-lettered in red and blue on a white background. Throughout the day he received potted plants and flowers from well-wishers.

After breakfast, Ecker conferred privately in his office with Administrative Assistant Beverly W. Wilhide, although the door was left wide open.

"That's the last time," he joked with reporters afterward. "During the campaign, I promised to keep the door open -- but I never said how long."

He was clearly in a jovial mood, yet he found it "hard to put into words" what he was really feeling on this day, he said.

Ecker had no such difficulty talking with his department heads. He told them during a 70-minute meeting in his office that his management style is to "walk" -- visit them in their offices to ensure that the three objectives of his administration -- "people, people, people," -- would be realized.

"The biggest challenge," he said immediately after being sworn in as executive, is to "implement the General Plan, develop an adequate public facilities act, begin a complete comprehensive rezoning, develop an economic development plan, develop a comprehensive transportation plan, provide a waste-management program and provide affordable housing," despite a projected deficit and declining revenues.

As he said to his department heads yesterday, "This is not my administration. I need you. No one can do very much without the help of others. Certainly I cannot do it alone. But together, we can do it."

Ecker also counseled patience: "There are no quick fixes, no Band-Aid solutions."

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