Ecker picks builder active in campaign as top administrator


Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker is being accused of kowtowing to the development industry and politicizing the government by appointing as county administrator a homebuilder who had worked on his campaign.

The appointment of John Campbell Mardall, president of B.B.I. Homes Inc., drew strong criticism from citizen activist Joyce Kelly, past president of the Howard County Citizens Association.

"Let's just lease the government to the home builders and Realtors and have them run it for us," she said. "There are a lot of political plums available. The county administrator's job is not one for a person with no previous government experience. It will take an enormous amount of time to teach him about the job."

Jim Kraft, chairman of the Democratic Forum, also took issue with the appointment, saying Mr. Ecker is "myopic in surrounding himself with Chamber of Commerce types who have a bottom-line view of the world and are not always sensitive to people."

Mr. Mardall, 45, of Ellicott City called the remarks "predictable," noting that he and Ms. Kelly frequently had been on opposite sides during the land-use battles that marked the tenure of former Executive Elizabeth Bobo,

Mr. Ecker already has come under some criticism for rewarding political supporters with jobs.

Beverly Wilhide, co-chair of the executive's campaign, became his chief aide. Campaign staff member Kenneth C. Ways took the job of public information officer. And Gail Bates, who chaired the campaign of Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, was hired as a top aide to Mr. Ecker.

Critics of Mr. Mardall's appointment noted that the Howard County Home Builders Political Affairs Committee was one of the major contributors to Mr. Ecker's campaign, giving $8,402. Mr. Mardall, who was among the most active members of the Ecker campaign's finance committee, gave $590.

While the appointment drew criticism from some Democrats and civic activists, it was hailed by those in the development industry.

Fred Glassberg, president of Crystal Hill Investments, praised Mr. Ecker "for not being hidebound to tradition in appointing a crisp thinker who had to make payrolls and make things work."

Jack Boender, an Ellicott City-based developer who is a member of a three-member committee helping Mr. Ecker to select a planning director, said Mr. Mardall "is a real personal individual who is a straight shooter."

While he works for the county, Mr. Mardall will discontinue homebuilding.

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