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Calling Chairman Feaga Council head's phone escapade underscored lack of direction.


ANY POLITICAL POINTS that Howard County Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga hoped to score recently against Democratic council member C. Vernon Gray for excessive car phone use backfired. Not only did Mr. Feaga retreat from his demand that Mr. Gray reveal his cellular telephone records, he came in for denunciation himself as a do-little leader of the council.

Among the critics, naturally, was Mr. Gray, who has grown more than a little weary of Mr. Feaga's continued harping on his use of the cellular phones council members are issued as part of their work with the county. This is the state of affairs that passes for council governance these days, and it's disturbing.

Neither side in this squabble aquitted himself well. Mr. Feaga came to the table ill-prepared to back up his demand that phone records be made public, and had to take the embarrassing step of reversing his position.

Mr. Feaga's idea, however, was not without merit. Mr. Gray should have been more willing to turn over his records, even if it meant blotting out personal calls. Council members must be accountable for their use of public resources. We have no problem with Mr. Gray's heavy use of a car phone, within council guidelines, on county business. But we have a great problem with his balking at releasing records that would allow the public to monitor his phone use. Mr. Feaga was ill-suited to pursue the matter after it escalated from a review of phone bills to an assessment of legislative achievements.

The fact is, this council, led by Mr. Feaga, has been a lackluster bunch. Unless you count a few salvos about spending aimed at the county school board, the council has posed no major initiatives nor contributed to a sense of direction for a growing county buffeted by budget problems. Mr. Feaga pledges that coming months will see a more activist Republican majority on the legislative body. Among his goals is to freeze school system salaries, eliminate a number of county positions and have more workers doubling up on jobs now held by two people. But before Mr. Feaga makes any more promises, we hope he dots his i's and crosses his t's. His phone challenge flopped, and that's small potatoes next to the larger issues the council must confront.

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