Fullerton Democrat to head council Joseph Bartenfelder keeps party's hold on county panel's top post


Joseph Bartenfelder -- Fullerton's Democratic farmer-politician -- is to become the next chairman of the Baltimore County Council, maintaining the Democrats' lock on the top council spot.

A largely administrative position that pays an extra $3,000 over the council salary of $30,900 a year, the post is important because the chairman is the main communications link between the other members and the county executive.

While the vote at the council's Jan. 6 meeting is expected to be unanimous, the council's two Republicans say the selection of a Democrat to be chairman for the third consecutive year is no accident on a council with a 5-2 Democratic majority.

"It is a partisan decision," Towson Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley says, adding that Bartenfelder told him that he "had four votes," which is a majority. Riley then said that he would vote for Bartenfelder.

T. Bryan McIntire, the council's other Republican, agrees that the selection is partisan, but said that he has worked well with Bartenfelder and plans to nominate him personally for the chairmanship.

A taciturn, cautious, conservative Democrat, Bartenfelder is the only nonoffice worker on a council with five lawyers and one computer programmer and spends hours daily working his far-flung farm fields.

His priorities, he says, are crafting a consensus on a new law regulating homebuilding around crowded county schools -- one of the council's most vexing issues -- and encouraging members to be more visible in Annapolis during the General Assembly session.

"I guess Robin will be working harder," Bartenfelder joked about his wife, who, in addition to helping with farm work, is raising their 3-year-old twin boys and their older sister.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said that his relationship with Bartenfelder is excellent and recalled that the councilman was one of the first eastern county leaders to back his campaign for executive in 1994.

"We did a lot of door knocking together," he said.

Quiet, but not shy, Bartenfelder is known as a sharp student of politics who is loath to jump into controversial issues.

An example is the decision this year to buy one of two huge former Grumman Corp. aircraft parts manufacturing buildings in Glen Arm, in Bartenfelder's district.

Ruppersberger administration officials were enthusiastic about the prospect of buying the two 180,000-square-foot buildings.

They had hoped to use the newer one to house up to seven badly needed indoor soccer or lacrosse courts, and the older one for repairing heavy county equipment and fire engines.

Eager for fast action, administration officials waited in silent frustration during months of controversy with area residents over possible traffic congestion, while Bartenfelder refused to come out squarely for or against the deal.

Finally, the council approved purchasing just the older building and limiting its use. Yet there seem to be no hard feelings.

"This council -- each member -- has worked hard to get along with each other and with the executive," says current Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat.

And the effort has apparently worked.

Said Ruppersberger: "Our relationship with the County Council has been pretty good."

Pub Date: 12/28/96

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