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The Nine Lives of Susan Gray


Susan B. Gray is surely the cat with nine lives. Since the November election in which she was defeated soundly by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, Ms. Gray has been virtually absent from the public arena. Before that, she had been rebuffed so many times by courts and county office holders that she was becoming known as the woman who could never win. Still determined, Ms. Gray emerged last week to ask the Maryland Court of Appeals to over turn the county's 1990 General Plan and the comprehensive rezoning that followed.

There is almost no likelihood that the court will agree to hear the case. Two lower courts have already ruled against her. All Ms. Gray can gain from her actions is to keep the issue alive while she devises another strategy to frustrate the system.

County officials have helped cause this situation by not even considering changes that would address residents' concerns about growth. Its cursory review of the county's adequate public facilities ordinance earlier this year was less than reassuring, only to be followed by the County Council's decision to sidestep the issue of zoning as it considers possible revisions to the county charter.

Sweeping these issues under the rug may well backfire. For all her bumbling, Susan Gray managed to get a surprising 38 percent of the popular vote in last year's election, nearly all of it on the strength of one issue.

Growth in Howard County is not unbridled or unnecessary, but as an issue it needs constant, serious review to guarantee it is being managed appropriately. County officials lost some moral authority recently when members of the school board announced they would no longer sit back and allow county zoning decisions to overcrowd Howard schools. Officials' stubborn refusal to tackle the issue aggressively has made them vulnerable to challenges and paved the way for Susan Gray's return.

County officials are confident Ms. Gray will get no response from the court. Even if she does, they say, a court victory would simply result in the council's passing emergency legislation to approve the General Plan as a bill instead of a resolution. But that would allow Ms. Gray's forces to turn around and try to take the plan to a referendum, which is what Ms. Gray has been seeking all along. And the rest of us wonder when it will ever end.

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