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December 5, 2011

Balto. Co. Council to vote on Towson sign bill

Baltimore County Council members are set to vote tonight on a measure to limit the height of electronic billboards on the Towson City Center.

Back in October, the council approved a bill by Fifth District Councilman David Marks to allow signs of up to 300 square feet on the building. The new legislation limits the height of the signs to 55 feet from the ground.

Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, offered the height limit after working with the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations. The community group had complained that the October bill would allow flashing signs that could be seen far as far away as Cockeysville and the Loch Raven Reservoir – and that county council members hadn’t listened to the community’s concerns.

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December 1, 2011

$500,000-plus DROP payments for some Balto. Co. police retirees

Several top police officers in Baltimore County retired this year with lump-sum payments of more than $500,000 under a program started seven years ago for public safety veterans.

The Deferred Retirement Option Program lets employees who delay retirement receive the one-time payments when they leave, in exchange for smaller annual pensions. Three police majors who retired this year received more than $500,000.

The Sun requested figures on retirement payments for county employees who have retired since June 1 of this year. Click here to see a list of retirement information from the county.

One police major, who retired June 1, left with a DROP payment of nearly $520,000, plus more than $101,000 for unused vacation and comp time. The major’s yearly pension will be more than $158,000.

Another seven police retirees got DROP payments of more than $400,000.

Union officials emphasize that while the numbers are high, the beneficiaries are getting reduced annual pension benefits.

The County Council approved DROP in 2004 in a move meant to keep experienced employees on the job longer. The optional program was part of an agreement reached in 2001 by then-County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger’s administration and public safety unions.

Public safety employees hired after 2007 aren’t eligible for DROP.

Posted by Alison Knezevich at 5:56 PM | | Comments (4)
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November 15, 2011

Balto. Co. GOP: Oliver should return part of salary

The Baltimore County Republican Central Committee wants County Councilman Kenneth Oliver to return the council salary he earned while he was working for the state in an apparent violation of the county charter.

In a resolution approved Monday night, the committee called on the Randallstown Democrat to give the money back to the county treasury. Oliver worked at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development from February until a few weeks ago. The charter prohibits council members from working for state and county agencies.

“We have an obligation as a minority party to hold the majority party accountable for its actions,” committee Chairman Steve Kolbe said Tuesday.

Kolbe pointed to a 2008 referendum question that asked residents whether they wanted to change the county charter to let council members work for the state. Voters rejected the referendum.

“We’re talking about an individual who not only breached the county charter, but knew what they were doing was against the will of the people,” Kolbe said.

Council members make $54,000 a year.

Oliver has said he didn’t think he was breaking any rules because he was a contract employee. On Tuesday, he called the GOP’s resolution “part and parcel to politics.”

He pointed to former Councilman Wayne Skinner, who worked for the state tax department during his time on the council. That was before county officials reviewed the charter and discovered the rule, which apparently had been forgotten.

“I’ll return mine when Wayne Skinner returns his for the four years he was on the council,” Oliver said.

The Republican resolution also calls on the council to review all actions it took while Oliver was working for the agency.

Posted by Alison Knezevich at 4:12 PM | | Comments (0)
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November 11, 2011

Balto. Co. Council wants more scrutiny for revenue panel

Some Baltimore County Council members are looking to increase oversight of the county Revenue Authority, a state-created agency that manages the county’s parking lots, golf courses and recreational facilities.

County Councilman David Marks said Friday that he and some other members considered adding the Revenue Authority to the ethics bill that County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has proposed, but discovered that they couldn’t put the agency under county law.

Marks described the authority as having “very little transparency.”

“It seems to be an agency that operates outside the normal rules,” the Perry Hall Republican said.

But any changes would have to be made by state lawmakers, Marks said, so the council might endorse state legislation that would toughen the rules.That could include proposals by Republican Delegate John Cluster, who also says the agency lacks transparency.

“Not a whole lot of people know a whole lot about the Revenue Authority,” Cluster said.

He plans to introduce several pieces of legislation when the session starts in January, he said. One measure, for instance, would make the authority follow the county’s normal bidding process – something it doesn’t have to do now.

Les Pittler, who is the longest-serving member on the revenue authority’s board, said he supports stronger ethics laws for the authority.

“If there’s a bill that applies to employees of the county government, I think that it should apply to the Baltimore County Revenue Authority as well,” he said.

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November 8, 2011

BaltCo. redistricting foes: Ballot challenge unlikely

Baltimore County residents seeking a referendum on the County Council’s plans to redraw political lines say it’s unlikely they will gather enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

Members of the Liberty Road Community Council are considering filing a lawsuit to challenge the redistricting plan, though they haven’t worked out the details, executive director Ella White Campbell said Tuesday.

“That’s the only avenue we have left, is to pursue this legally,” she said Tuesday.

Campbell and other members of her group said they felt the county Board of Elections did not give them enough guidance on how to write the petition, and told them that two versions of petitions that they submitted had errors. The group believes many of the signatures already gathered are likely to be thrown out.

The residents seeking the referendum have until Nov.17 to gather about 9,700 signatures, White Campbell said. They would then need to get about 19,000 more within the next month.

“Time is not on our side,” said Aaron Barnett, a board member of the Liberty Road Community Council and president of the Powhatan Community Association.

Continue reading "BaltCo. redistricting foes: Ballot challenge unlikely" »

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November 7, 2011

BaltCo Council pushes back ethics bill introduction

The Baltimore County Council was set to introduce County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's ethics bill Monday night, but members said administration officials gave them copies of the legislation so late that they didn't have time to review the measure.

The council now plans to introduce the bill Nov. 21, so it could still be voted on in December.

"The council members just wanted to have some time so they could read it, digest it, do their due diligence," said Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat.

The council generally supports the bill, said Fifth District Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.

But "I think my colleagues would have liked to have briefed on the details of the bill, and they would have liked to have seen the legislation," Marks said.

Sixth District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said she got a copy of the bill around 3 p.m. Monday

"And it's 50 pages," said Bevins, a Middle River Democrat.

Continue reading "BaltCo Council pushes back ethics bill introduction" »

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November 2, 2011

County ethics bill would restrict lobbying, add enforcement

Former Baltimore County employees would be permanently barred from lobbying on issues that they worked on, under a proposal by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. The bill would also add teeth to a charter rule that prohibits County Council members from working for the state.

The proposal, which Kamenetz has asked the County Council to introduce Monday, follows Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver’s decision to quit his state job after revelations that it apparently violated the charter.

Kamenetz said his proposal is “not merely reacting to recent events,” and that he has been working on the legislation for at least four months, but a top aide later said the item on County Council members' jobs was "a late addition."

"It was added after the discovery that certain charter violations did not have any enforcement remedy within county government," said Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff.

The wide-ranging bill would also require that county officials’ financial disclosure forms be posted online, and prohibit employees from accepting gifts from people who do business with the county.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Kamenetz said in an interview. “I want to make sure that people have confidence in the decisions that county government makes. And that will allow people to accept those decisions more readily … I don’t want the public to second-guess any county employee.”

Continue reading "County ethics bill would restrict lobbying, add enforcement" »

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November 1, 2011

Kamenetz to propose tougher Balto. Co. ethics rules

Baltimore County Council Executive Kevin Kamenetz plans to propose changes to county ethics laws Wednesday, his chief of staff confirmed.

The legislation would deal with issues including secondary employment, financial disclosure requirements, conflicts of interest, and penalties for violating ethics rules, Chief of Staff Don Mohler said. It also would strengthen the authority of the county Ethics Commission.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, recently got into hot water after revelations that he had been working as a contract employee for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The county charter prohibits council members from working for the state or county agencies.

Mohler also confirmed that Kamenetz additionally plans to issue an executive order that would “create a code of conduct for Baltimore County employees.”

The county executive plans an 11:15 a.m. press conference at the historic courthouse to release details of his proposals.

-Alison Knezevich

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October 24, 2011

Balto. Co. Councilman Oliver to resign from state job

Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth Oliver will resign from his position as a finance specialist with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, an agency spokeswoman confirmed Monday.

Oliver has worked as a contract employee since February – an apparent violation of the county charter, which prohibits council members from holding any other employment or office with the state or county.

DBED spokeswoman Karen Glenn Hood said Oliver told leaders there "that his official resignation would be forthcoming," though he has not yet turned in a letter.

Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, has not returned messages seeking comment today.

Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. said he spoke with other council members this weekend, and all agreed that Oliver needed to either resign from the council or resign from the state job.

Oliver informed Olszewski of his decision today, the chairman said.

"All the other council members think this is a serious matter," Olszewski said. "I believe my council members will be glad to hear that Councilman Oliver has taken this action, and hopefully, it doesn't happen again."

-Alison Knezevich

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October 13, 2011

Balto. Co. panel suggests liquor license changes

A Baltimore County task force examining how liquor licenses are issued to restaurants is preparing to submit recommendations to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz next month.

At a meeting Thursday, the task force agreed to recommend some changes to the way restaurants get licenses, but not all the details of their plan are worked out.

The task force plans to recommend increasing the number of restaurant licenses a person or corporation can hold, from six licenses to 12. They will suggest eliminating a requirement that a license seeker gather signatures from 10 people within a mile of the business.

Continue reading "Balto. Co. panel suggests liquor license changes" »

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October 11, 2011

Balto. Co. Council to take up binding arbitration, early retirement

The Baltimore County Council is set to discuss two big issues for public employees at a 2 p.m. work session today: An early-retirement buyout plan and legislation to change how the county resolves labor disputes.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed the buyout plan, with a goal of eliminating 200 positions. His administration says it would save between $10 million and $15 million a year.

About 1,100 employees would be eligible for the buyouts.

The labor-dispute legislation comes out of a 2010 referendum in which county voters approved giving general county workers the right to binding arbitration – in which a third-party arbiter makes decisions during an impasse. The county’s police and firefighters in have had this right for about a decade.

Under the Kamenetz bill to be discussed today, general workers wouldn’t be able to use binding arbitration until 2014.

Unions have argued that the measure should take effect sooner. They also want the workers to be able to use binding arbitration for terms and conditions of employment, as police and firefighters can. Kamenetz’s proposal would limit the arbitration to salary and pension issues.

The council is scheduled to vote on both bills next Monday, Oct. 17.

-Alison Knezevich

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October 5, 2011

Liberty Road group wants redistricting vote

The community association that represents neighborhoods along Liberty Road says it will start gathering signatures in a referendum drive to challenge the new Baltimore County Council districts finalized this week.

The Liberty Road Community Council is unhappy with changes in the minority-majority District 4, represented by Democrat Kenneth N. Oliver. Throughout the redistricting process this summer, Oliver and others complained about a plan to shift a Woodlawn area -- including the Social Security Administration -- to Democrat Tom Quirk's District 1.

Before Monday's unanimous vote, Oliver withdrew an amendment he proposed last week to keep the Woodlawn precinct of 6,000 in his district.

Christine Cypress, the community group's president, said members are upset that the plan moves the tax-friendly enterprise zone surrounding the SSA into another district, where it will join the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She said the move would dilute voting power and disrupt school districts.

"We were ready for this when the vote was [taken] on Monday," Cypress said

The plan as passed would take effect for the 2014 elections.

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July 26, 2011

Balto. County school board task force chair looking ahead

A task force on the structure of the Baltimore County school board will begin developing its recommendations in the coming weeks, Sen. Kathy Klausmeier said.

Klausmeier, who chairs the task force, said she will be working with co-chairman Del. Steve Lafferty to gather input from other members based on the recent public hearings.

"I want to see if we can find a common thread," she said.

The final public hearing was held last night at the Towson Library. Many in attendance expressed support for an elected board, the structure that exists in more than 90 percent of school districts nationwide, or hybrid form that includes some appointed members to address diversity concerns. Currently, all county board members are appointed by the governor. Most Maryland school districts have elected boards.

Several attendees were skeptical that changes were needed in the board structure, pointing to the school district’s successes – from elementary and middle school test scores to high school graduation rates – and questioning whether research shows any link between school board structure and student achievement.

New school board president Lawrence Schmidt appeared before the committee last night. Schmidt said board members plan to discuss changing speaker time limits – only 10 randomly selected speakers are permitted at meetings – and possibly moving up the time allotted for public comment on the agenda.

Klausmeier said she is willing to meet with anyone who was not able to attend the three forums held this month in Reisterstown, Essex and Towson.

Klausmeier's district office is also accepting testimony by mail (ATTN: Baltimore County School Board Task Force). Submissions may also be emailed over the next two weeks to katherine.klausmeier@senate.state.md.us. The task force will issue a report by October.

Posted by Raven Hill at 5:16 PM | | Comments (0)
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July 25, 2011

Balto. County GOP to hold legislative redistricting hearing

The Baltimore County Republican Central Committee will gather input on state redistricting issues at a community hearing on Aug. 4 at the Holiday Inn in Timonium

The hearing will start at 7 p.m., and provide residents and communities with an opportunity to discuss legislative district preferences as state public redistricting hearings get underway, said Tom Henry, the committee's second vice chair.

UPDATE: Attendees are encouraged to register online at Baltimore County United for Fair Redistricting or on the night of the hearing. Electronic copies of testimony may also be posted on the site.

“Our hearing is an important part of our work to develop an independent, sensible, good-government alternative to redistricting in Baltimore County,” Henry said in a press release. “We believe that the people of Baltimore County know their communities best. We also believe that an electoral map should put our communities and the people that live within them first. The citizens of Baltimore County deserve a sensible solution. We will develop one.”

The committee’s redistricting initiative is an independent commission not affiliated with Gov. Martin O'Malley.

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July 15, 2011

Balto. County Councilman Ken Oliver gets support from state lawmakers

Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver said he’s secured support from Randallstown and Woodlawn area legislators in opposing a plan to shift the council boundary lines surrounding the Social Security Administration headquarters.

Delegates Adrienne A. Jones, speaker pro tem; Emmett C. Burns, Jr.; and Shirley Nathan- Pulliam have expressed support, he said. Jones, who works as the county’s deputy human resources director, attended a meeting in Woodlawn last night with more than 80 other residents, elected officials and community association representatives.

State Sen. Delores Kelley, however, has previously said she supports the move for economic and political reasons. In a July 5 article, she said:

Quirk is a businessman in the district and really has great ideas for working with the community, government and business. I don't think we will lose in that regard. The advantage I see is making [District 1] more Democratic. To put that precinct into the 1st District would actually make sure for us that we would get a good general outcome for Democrats.

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July 14, 2011

Balto. Co. releases 911 recordings of Homan's injury

UPDATE: Baltimore County budget and finance director Keith Dorsey will serve as acting county administrative officer during Fred Homan's absence, according to spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

Emergency dispatch recordings made Saturday afternoon, when County Administrative Officer Fred Homan was hurt in a fall from a horse on the North Central Railroad Trail, show that he was getting help from a medical doctor who happened to be on the trail at the time, and that his helmet fell off at some point during the accident. Listen to the recording of the 911 call here.

In the longer of the two recordings released by the county police today, the caller, Karen Buck, who sounds breathless and nervous as she gives information about their location and the accident, can be heard talking to the dispatcher and to people at the scene in northern Baltimore County, including Homan. She says "I barely know this gentleman," and only met him that morning.

"Don't move, we're getting you help, OK, Fred? Fred, no no, don't move," says Buck, who tells the dispatcher that Homan's helmet fell off during the accident that occurred at about 12:30. She tells the dispatcher that she was in the front of the group and Homan was in the back and she did not see how the accident happened.

Buck tells the dispatcher that a medical doctor had stopped to help. The doctor recommended that a helicopter be called to get Homan to a hospital. The county announced on Tuesday that he had been released from the hospital.

Homan, who has worked for the county since 1978, was taken by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The nature of his injuries has not been released, and all information relating to his condition was edited out of the two recordings before they were released today.

The longer recording runs just over 10 minutes. In the shorter of the two recordings, less than 40 seconds, a different dispatcher is heard directing emergency crews to the scene in Gunpowder Falls State Park.

Homan has worked for the county since 1978. Former County Executive James T. Smith Jr. appointed him to administrative officer in 2007, after he’d served for almost 20 years as budget director.

-Arthur Hirsch

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July 12, 2011

Balto. County official released from hospital

Baltimore County Administrative Officer Fred Homan has been released from the hospital after being injured in a fall from a horse over the weekend.

A top aide to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Homan was injured Saturday while riding a horse on the NCR Trail and taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with serious injuries. The extent of his injuries has not been released, although Kamenetz issued a statement Tuesday noting that Homan is making “excellent progress.”

“Fred is expected to make a full and speedy recovery,” Kamenetz said in the release.

Homan has worked for the county since 1978. Former County Executive James T. Smith Jr. appointed him to administrative officer in 2007, after he’d served for almost 20 years as budget director.

Homan often receives credit for the county’s cautious fiscal approach.

Posted by Raven Hill at 5:33 PM | | Comments (0)
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Balto. County GOP elects new chairman

Steve Kolbe will replace Tony Campbell as chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee as members seek to present a unified front.

Kolbe, who joined the committee in March, called it a “new day for Republican politics in Baltimore County.”

“I truly believe that is what our committee is yearning for as we move forward into the future,” he said. Kolbe ran on a platform that included stronger communication with the public, party members and elected officials, better grassroots organization and registration efforts, and a plan to contest all races in the county.

Kolbe, 34, was elected chairman over Al Mendelsohn at a meeting on Monday, the culmination of months of squabbling with Campbell over a range of issues. Campbell agreed last month to step down after members demanded his resignation, citing leadership gaffes, poor fundraising and growing isolation from elected officials.

A technology executive, Kolbe said he’s frequently attended committee meetings since 2009. He was involved in a lawsuit against the county last year regulating the size of political campaign signs.

Kolbe claimed that his free-speech and equal-protection rights were violated by a county order that he remove a sign supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The county cited Kolbe for putting up a 32-square-foot sign in a zone where only 8-square-foot signs are allowed. Kolbe claimed that the rules inhibit political debate and discriminate against homeowners, because larger signs are allowed on vacant land.

He eventually dropped the suit.

Kolbe picked up endorsements from state House Delegates Susan Aumann, Joe Boteler, Bill Frank, Wade Kach, Pat McDonough and Kathy Szeliga, and Sen. Joseph M. Getty.

Mendelsohn said he's optimistic about the committee's future. "Good things are going to happen with Steve and good things would've happened with me."

Posted by Raven Hill at 12:46 PM | | Comments (0)
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July 5, 2011

Balto. County to merge two agencies

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is moving forward with plans to merge the departments of health and social services.

Earlier this year, Kamenetz said he was exploring a potential merger of three departments -- health, aging and social services -- into a single agency depending on the results of a cost and productivity analysis. As proposed, only two departments would be combined. A bill authorizing the merger will be introduced at tonight's County Council meeting.

The council will discuss the plan at its July 26 work-session meeting and vote on the bill Aug. 1.

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July 1, 2011

Baltimore County salaries online

Baltimore County employee salaries are now online, accessible via a spreadsheet provided by the county or searchable database on The Baltimore Sun's website.

The county's spreadsheet is pretty straightforward -- an alphabetical listing of employee salaries as of June 30. The Sun's database includes three years of information by individual names and agency.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans earlier this week to post salaries online starting today, just as The Sun was preparing to unveil its database.

Posted by Raven Hill at 10:24 AM | | Comments (2)
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June 29, 2011

Kamenetz: Balto. County employee salaries going online

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans to post salaries of 7,800 government employees online on Friday.

The Baltimore Sun has been in touch with county officials in recent weeks while preparing to launch its own database. The Sun sent a request to the county last August for each employee’s annual salary, including name, title, department and hire date. In addition, the newspaper asked for each employee’s actual gross pay from 2008 to 2010, including overtime, expenses and other payments that would be added to the annual salary, along with the county’s check log. The Sun’s databases for the city and state are currently online.

UPDATE: The Sun's county employee database is now live.

Kamenetz said the county’s database will be placed under the human resources section of the website and show the base salary of every employee, including first and last names, as of June 30.

The effort is designed to “increase transparency of county government operations” and was not triggered by the newspaper’s request, spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

In a statement, the county executive said, “People expect government to be open and forthcoming with information and that is what we are doing in Baltimore County.”

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June 28, 2011

Former Balto. County Exec. Venetoulis criticizes 'retroactive legislation'

Former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis gave a nod of support Tuesday to legislation that would allow a controversial Catonsville townhouse development to proceed.

Venetoulis submitted a letter to the County Council stating his views on the planned unit development (“PUD”) concept. An excerpt:

“First, the concept of a ‘Planned Unit Development’ was initiated by the civic groups and citizens during my Administration as part of a growth management policy intended to encourage creative, well-planned residential, commercial or mixed-use developments. Most importantly, it was designed to enhance citizen participation in the County’s future growth. … Democracy cannot function if rules are altered and then applied backwards. The public must know that the rules in effect will be applied fairly and consistently. As a matter of good government, retroactive legislation is not simply poor public policy, it is unfair, unwise and dangerous.”

Continue reading "Former Balto. County Exec. Venetoulis criticizes 'retroactive legislation'" »

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June 23, 2011

Balto. County unions ratify contract extension

Two Baltimore County unions ratified contract extensions requiring them to give up cost-of-living increases through 2014 as officials announced a tentative agreement with its public health nurses union.

The county sheriffs and firefighters unions approved the extensions by 96 percent and 98 percent, respectively. Under the agreement, employees will receive scheduled increment and longevity increases, and contribute more to their pension plans. In exchange, they will not be laid off or furloughed.

Earlier this month, the county announced that it had also reached a tentative agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) representing skilled trade employees and laborers. The two largest unions — the police union and the county Federation of Public Employees, which represents most government workers — have not agreed on contract extensions.

According to a news release from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz:

As a result of these agreements, all new employees in the Sheriff's department hired after July 1, 2011 will contribute 10% to their pension annually, up from the current rate of 8%. New uniformed members to the fire department hired after July 1, 2011 will also contribute 10%, up from the current rate of 8.5%.

UPDATE: AFSCME Council 67, Local 921 president Norman Anderson said the union will vote Friday on the extension. 

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June 20, 2011

Baltimore County school board task force appointed

Members of a task force to study the structure of the Baltimore County school board will start meeting next month.

The group, formally named the Task Force on the Selection Process, Accountability and Professionalism of the Baltimore County Board of Education, will hold three public meetings in Reisterstown, Essex and Towson, starting July 6. State Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and Del. Steve Lafferty will chair the task force, which will include six other state lawmakers -- Senators J.B. Jennings, Delores Kelley and Bobby Zirkin, and Delegates Emmett Burns, Wade Kach and Dana Stein.

Baltimore County Council chairman John Olszewski, Sr. will serve as its representative. Appointments from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education are forthcoming.

Klausmeier and Del. John Olszewski Jr., gave comments in a press release:

“I am pleased that the Task Force includes a diverse range of opinions and experiences,” shared Senator Klausmeier. “This will serve the group well as it embarks on its work in the months ahead.”

Delegate Olszewski said that he is “excited to bring our educational stakeholders together so that we can collectively develop solutions to continue advancing educational excellence in Baltimore County.” Olszewski added that, “The work of this group can act as an important blueprint as we consider changes to how our school system operates during the next legislative session.”

Continue reading "Baltimore County school board task force appointed" »

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June 15, 2011

McDonough: I am not an extremist

State Del. Pat McDonough says he’s been called a lot of things in his political career, but he takes exception to being characterized as an extremist who turns off Democrats and moderates.

Jon Herbst, a Baltimore County Republican Central Committee member, used words to that effect in discussing the problems that led to chairman Tony Campbell's ouster this week:.

"We've got to address the underlying problem and it was not all Chairman Campbell's doing," Herbst said. "The reality is the Republican Party has been hijacked by the religious right, not just in Baltimore County but across the country. As long as Pat McDonough, Brian Murphy and Sarah Palin are the face of the Republican Party, the party is simply not going to appeal to mainstream voters."

McDonough points to his own efforts in leading the petition drive against the new state law that gives in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants, noting that he leads the ticket in votes in his district and attracts more Democrats and independent voters than any of his fellow Republicans.

“Saying I’m an extremist who can’t attract Democrats and moderates…I am the one who’s been doing that,” McDonough said. “I’ve been accused of a lot of things in my life, but I’ve never been accused of that. The record is clear.”

Continue reading "McDonough: I am not an extremist" »

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Parkville advocates can take case to state

Opponents of the Parkville parking lot sale have some reason yet to hope, even if it is just a faint glimmer.

They're shifting their attention from the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, where the battle to stop the sale has been lost, to the Maryland Board of Public Works, where a key decision has yet to be made.

"I don't believe in done deals until they're done,"said Ruth Baisden, president of the Greater Parkville Community Council. "And this isn't done."

Her group and the Parkville/Carney Business and Professional Association wrote letters, argued before the Revenue Authority and staged protests at the parking lot -- all in vain. They claimed that the 58-space lot was crucial for the businesses along that stretch of Harford Road near the city line, which they call Parkville's Main Street. They said the lot had for years been used as a center of such community activities as the annual Parkville fair and the Christmas tree lighting.

The authority board was persuaded by chief executive William L. Cook II's argument that the authority should unload the lot because it wasn't bringing in enough money. And there was the high bid of $530,000 for the land made by DMS Development LLC, which wants to build a Walgreens drug store at the parking lot site on Harford Road between Lavender and Taylor avenues.

But there's a hitch.

Continue reading "Parkville advocates can take case to state" »

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June 9, 2011

Balto. County Council members release tuition statement

Five Baltimore County Council members -- Vicki Almond, Cathy Bevins, Todd Huff, David Marks and John Olszewski Sr. -- have released a statement calling on residents to support the petition drive to repeal a new state law on in-state tuition for undocumented students, joining commissioners in Frederick and Carroll counties. According to the statement:

"A majority of the Council sees this issue in terms of its cost to Baltimore County citizens during very challenging economic times," said John Olszewski, Sr., Chairman of the County Council. "This law is just unfair to the hardworking citizens of the Seventh District whom I represent."

"Unless it is rejected by the voters, this law may well increase the cost of a college education for Baltimore County families who obey the law and follow appropriate procedures," said Todd Huff, Councilman for the Third District. "At the same time, it will reward illegal behavior and provide an incentive to attract more illegal immigration."

"This is an issue that has resonated with the public, particularly in Baltimore County, which is leading the state in petition signatures. The support for a referendum on this law transcends party and social lines," said David Marks, Councilman for the Fifth District.

"Although S.B. 167 is a state issue, this law involves an important and emotionally charged subject for Baltimore County residents, who will bear the cost of in-state tuition subsidies," said Sixth District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins. "I believe it would be appropriate to let the voters make the ultimate decision."

Posted by Raven Hill at 1:19 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

Oliver, Quirk decline to support in-state tuition petition

Baltimore County Council members Kenneth N. Oliver and Tom Quirk said today they will not join their colleagues in supporting a petition against a new state law that gives discounted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

"I think that we are only looking at part of the bill, not the whole bill," said Oliver, noting that an undocumented student would need to have attended a Maryland high school and provide proof that their parents filed state taxes. "If their parents are paying taxes to the state of Maryland, I don't see where there's a major problem."

Quirk said he views immigration issues as state and federal matters. "The county really doesn't have anything to do with this."

The students would qualify for in-state tuition rates at a community college. After completing two years, he or she could transfer to a four-year institution and again pay the in-state rate.

Council members were told last month that only 20 students in the county would qualify, Oliver said.

Continue reading "Oliver, Quirk decline to support in-state tuition petition" »

Posted by Raven Hill at 10:03 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

June 8, 2011

Balto. County Council members support tuition petition

A majority of the Baltimore County Council plans to issue a statement as early as Thursday morning expressing support for a petition that seeks to halt a new state law giving discounted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, according to Republican Todd Huff.

Republican David Marks said he has already signed the petition.

Huff said he is "strongly opposed" to the bill and supports efforts to put the issue to a referendum.

"I do feel it's going to have an economic impact on local jurisdictions," he said. "We depend on tuition to help fund our community college. Where they lack the funds, we have to supplement, and in these economic times that's not good."

Posted by Raven Hill at 6:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

June 7, 2011

Balto. County extends employee labor agreements

Three Baltimore County unions have agreed to give up cost-of-living increases in exchange for job security through 2014, yet another sign that local officials are bracing for continued tough economic times.

The county is approaching the end of a two-year agreement that required municipal and public safety employees to pay a larger share of health care costs. Unions representing 1,925 sheriff’s department workers, firefighters and some municipal employees — roughly a quarter of the county’s workforce — would be affected by the contract extension, which was announced Tuesday by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

The two largest unions — the police union and the county Federation of Public Employees, which represents most government workers — have not agreed on contract extensions.

Continue reading "Balto. County extends employee labor agreements" »

Posted by Raven Hill at 1:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

Kamenetz's cabinet now complete

With the approval last night of Daniel C. Gundersen as director of economic development, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s cabinet is now complete.

The County Council unanimously approved the appointment. Gundersen previously served as senior advisor for Philadelphia-based Econsult Corporation and as Maryland’s assistant secretary for business development in the early 2000s.

He will replace David Iannucci, who is now working in Prince George’s County. Gundersen, who will earn $185,000, in his new role, discussed his goals with the council last week.

Posted by Raven Hill at 10:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

June 1, 2011

Former Balto. County Exec. joins son's law firm

Former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has joined his son at the Towson law firm of Smith, Gildea & Schmidt.

According to a release from the firm:

Smith will serve as “of Counsel,” assisting in complex litigation and business matters, administrative law and governmental affairs. Smith will be working with Smith, Gildea & Schmidt’s 11 attorneys, including his son, Michael Paul Smith.

“I have been blessed with many opportunities in the past, but I always wanted to be a part of building a premier law firm. Joining my son and Smith, Gildea & Schmidt will give me that opportunity,” said Jim Smith.

David Gildea and Michael Paul Smith, who have done work for local developers, held fundraisers for two County Council members last fall, Cathy Bevins and Tom Quirk. Though some criticized the lawyers' contributions, both lawmakers said they would not feel beholden to developers.

Development -- along with the influence of developers -- is a constant issue in races for County Council, where members who propose zoning changes in their own districts are generally not challenged by other members. Rezoning takes place every four years, with the next one due in 2012.

Continue reading "Former Balto. County Exec. joins son's law firm" »

Posted by Raven Hill at 3:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

May 31, 2011

Balto. Co. development appointee meets council

New Baltimore County economic development director Daniel C. Gundersen hopes to tie up loose projects as he starts his new position.

He told the County Council on Tuesday that he plans to set priorities among a variety of projects, small and large-scale, ongoing and stagnant while addressing major concerns, such as the impending closure of Solo Cup Co., in Owings Mills.

“Moving forward there needs to be a strategic vision and a strategic plan that is well coordinated with all of the different offices of the county,” Gundersen said.

Councilman Tom Quirk said he does not want smaller retail development projects, such as those along Frederick Road in Catonsville, to get overlooked. Gundersen said that would not be the case.

“Economic development in my book is about all of the inputs to economic prosperity. Too often we look at economic development and we say it’s either industrial development, commercial development, [or] business park formation,” he said. “Economic development today is so much broader. … It’s also innovation and intellectual capital. What you’ll see in me is a willingness to work with others wherever they may be housed, in whatever office.”

The council is slated to confirm Gundersen’s appointment on Monday.

Posted by Raven Hill at 5:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County
        
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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