The County Council last night rejected a proposal urging the permanent closing of the regional composting facility in Dorsey, which neighbors blame for noxious smells and health problems.
Howard and the other two counties that run the facility shut it down temporarily last month. But Councilman C. Vernon Gray, the sponsor of last night's proposal, said the facility could reopen as soon as next summer.
"This is what I call the council sticking its head in the sand again," said Gray, an east Columbia Democrat whose district includes Dorsey. "It's going to come back and bite us again."
Also last night, Councilman Dennis R. Schrader of North Laurel became County Council chairman -- a high-profile job that the majority Republicans have chosen to rotate among themselves.
Gray's effort to close the Dorsey compost facility began more than a month ago. At an October hearing, dozens of neighbors told the council that the facility had a horrible smell, hurt their property values and caused a variety of health troubles.
At that same meeting, the administration of County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, requested time to resolve the problems. The council delayed action on Gray's proposal. The facility closed soon afterward.
The matter seemed dead until the council received a letter from the state agency that operates the facility on behalf of the three counties. The letter suggested it could reopen as soon as next summer.
To head off that possibility, Gray revived his earlier proposal with several amendments. One eliminated an offer -- made in the original draft of the proposal -- to possibly reimburse residents if their property lost value because of the composting facility.
But the council's three Republicans said the administration and the other counties -- Baltimore and Anne Arundel -- needed more time to solve the problems at the facility before Howard took action on its own.
"We owe it to our partners to give them a little bit of time without hitting them with a resolution like this," said Schrader.
Gray's proposal failed 3-2 in a vote along party lines.
Earlier in the evening, Schrader -- the junior Republican on the council -- became council chairman.
After the Republicans won control of the council for the first time in 1994, they agreed to rotate the chairmanship.
Councilman Charles C. Feaga of West Friendship, a member since 1986, was council chairman in 1995.
Councilman Darrel E. Drown of Ellicott City, a member since 1990, was chairman throughout 1996 until last night. He is now chairman of the Zoning Board, made up of the five members of the County Council.
Also last night, Gray became chairman of the Liquor Board, a job traditionally reserved for a member of the council's minority party.
All four councilmen are considering runs for county executive in 1998, when Ecker must step down after his second term.
Chairmanships bring no special power outside of running meetings. But for Schrader, it may give him publicity and contacts around the county to help him run for county executive.
Politically, he is the least conservative of the three council Republicans and is sometimes the swing vote on issues.
In the recent race for Howard's Circuit Court judgeships, Schrader was the highest-ranking Republican official to support the sitting judges appointed by Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
The governor's appointees were the first women on the Circuit Court. One, Donna Hill Staton, was Howard's first black judge. She lost in the Nov. 5 election.
Schrader, 43 and vice president of the University of Maryland Medical System, said he foresees few changes as chairman.
"We want to maintain a strong school system getting jobs and getting the tax base back up," he said. "It's not a glamorous-type job. People expect us to do it in a workmanlike fashion without a lot of fanfare."
Pub Date: 12/03/96