Ball Hopes To Lead a 'Culture of Consensus'

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006

With an often acrimonious political season now over, the almost new Howard County Council seems eager to bring in a fresh era of civility and compromise.

And who better to chair this so-called council of consensus than a longtime mediator who teaches conflict resolution?

"We are developing a different kind of culture," said Calvin Ball (D-East Columbia), who was elected to head the council this month. "This is a great kind of opportunity for me to use my skills and abilities to usher in this new culture of collaboration and consensus."

Although the 31-year-old Ball is the youngest person to chair the council, he also happens to be the member with the most experience. The other four members were elected for the first time in November, but Ball has served for eight months since he was appointed to replace David Rakes, who abruptly resigned for health reasons.

"It is a little strange to be thought of as an elder statesmen," Ball said. "But some of the other council members have asked me questions about how some things work, and that's part of my duty to help."

Some Republicans have raised questions that Ball's emphasis on equanimity -- and his close relationship with County Executive Ken Ulman (D) -- could transform the council into a rubber stamp for Ulman.

"The key thing is making sure that he is an independent voice from the executive branch," said council member Greg Fox (R-West County), the lone Republican on the five-member panel. "That is really the main concern."

David W. Keelan, a Republican who runs a prominent blog about Howard County politics, has called Ball "a lackey" who follows marching orders from older Democrats with more political experience. He pointed to a complicated zoning measure that Ball proposed in September at the behest, Keelan believes, of party elders. Ball quickly withdrew the proposal after an outcry from some residents.

"Most people feel that Calvin Ball didn't have the knowledge or experience to create that kind of legislation," Keelan said. "He was being heavily coached by [former council member] Guy Guzzone and Ken Ulman because of his greenness."

Ulman said he will work in a collaborative way with Ball and the rest of the council and added that it "just couldn't be more false" to suggest that he issues edicts to Ball.

"I think any criticism of Calvin in that manner is offensive and does a tremendous disservice to who he is as a person," Ulman said. "He is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful people that I know."

When asked about such attacks, Ball said: "Some people need to let it go. The election is over."

Ball said his top priorities are implementing "cutting edge" policies, such as a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, and making sure that all communities benefit from the county's wealth. Howard has one of the highest average household incomes in the country, according to the most recent Census Bureau data.

"I'd like to see that in those areas where we are exceptional overall, that we are exceptional for all," he said.

When asked to describe specific measures he would take to achieve those goals, Ball offered no details and said the council was still in a "fact-finding phase."

"Today is Week One. We've got four years," he said. "There's still a great deal of time to do research and bring in people to advise us."

Ball, a native of Catonsville, studied religion and philosophy at Towson University and received a master's degree in legal and ethical studies from the University of Baltimore. After considering becoming an ethicist or a lawyer, Ball went into education.

He teaches classes at the University of Phoenix on ethics, political science and conflict management. But his professional background doesn't mean that Ball has shied away from disagreement as a council member or during his three terms on the Oakland Mills Village Board.

"A high level of civility can be obtained," he said. "I would disagree, however, that conflict is unnecessary. From conflict, as long it's productive, comes better understanding of an issue."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company