Stung by criticism that his administration may be keeping too many things under wraps, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker sat down for a brown bag lunch with reporters yesterday.
He acknowledged he was embarrassed that it was a Marriottsville resident, not county officials, who broke the news in January about high levels of toxic chemicals in the ground water below Alpha Ridge Landfill.
"We missed an opportunity at the landfill" to inform the public and build trust, Mr. Ecker said. "I don't want it to happen again."
The county discovered toxins in tests in September and November but didn't disclose its findings until January when resident Donald L. Gill, a University of Maryland medical school biochemist, asked for the results and made them public.
County officials said they had not aired the findings earlier because they believed the tests "did not give a complete picture of what's going on." The September and November tests, officials said, were just part of a series of landfill tests the county will be conducting until June.
The public works department plans to issue a report on the tests in July and make recommendations based on them in August.
That's not soon enough for Mr. Ecker. He thinks Marriottsville residents feel betrayed that the county did not air its findings earlier. As a result, he plans, beginning April 15, to publish a monthly newsletter to provide residents "the county's latest, most up-to-date information about testing" and other happenings at the landfill.
Mr. Ecker denied that yesterday's informal question and answer session or the proposed landfill newsletter are related to his still-unannounced bid for re-election in 1994.
Mr. Ecker said that while he will seek another four-year term, the campaign will not be cheap. He said he has about $10,000 in hand, but expects the 1994 race to be the most expensive yet -- costing $200,000 to $300,000.
In 1990, Mr. Ecker spent $82,961 on his campaign -- $45,050 less than his opponent, incumbent Democrat M. Elizabeth Bobo.
Mr. Ecker said he does not know who the Democrats will run against him. The names he has heard tossed around, he said, are Ms. Bobo, deputy secretary of the state Department of Human Resources; County Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st; County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and former state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer.
Although Mr. Ecker did not mention him, former County Administrator Buddy Roogow, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's director of operations, also has been talked about as a potential candidate. Mr. Roogow joined the governor's staff after Mr. Ecker fired him as county administrator June 28, 1991.
Mr. Ecker said he will not campaign on his record, regardless of who his opponent is. "A record is something you've done in the past," he said. "I want people to know what I'll be doing for the next four years."