September 11, 2013 5:43 pm ET
Are our county officials doing their “official” duties?
Source: A Question of Leadership
(First in a series)
I want to take a break from my other series to address something that I believe is much more important to our citizens. To that end, I will be using my blog to look at our county leadership—or lack thereof, depending on how you see the issues.
In doing my research for this series, I was reminded of the 1963 Jerry Lewis classic, “Who’s Minding the Store?” In the film, Jerry plays an inept clerk who can’t seem to get anything right, despite the best of intentions.
Thus begin the comparisons with our Baltimore County leadership. You see, as much as our “leaders” have the best of intentions (at least in the public eye), it seems as though the hilarity and ineptness simply can’t (or won’t) stop.
It seems that, when we ask “who’s minding the store” here in the county, the answer is nobody.
And for those that think I am being harsh, isn’t it the job of the taxpayers to be harsh on our government leaders? Isn’t that how things have typically been done in our country, where we have the freedom to question and criticize? I’m pretty sure that’s what the founding fathers intended.
Anyway, enough with the history/civics spiel. I want to explain the functions of the county government in a legal sense so you understand what I mean by my above comments. To do so, we need to start at the top and work our way down.
For my first blog in this series, I will take a view of the Baltimore County Executive, Mr. Kevin Kamenetz.
Mr. Kamenetz has been a fixture in our county government for quite a while now—he was a county councilman from 1999 to 2010 before ascending to his current position. Therefore, one would think that he should understand just how the county government system works.
Prior to his time in elected office, Mr. Kamenetz served as an assistant state’s attorney from 1982 to 1987. So, suffice to say, he has both a legal and a governmental background that should allow him to serve the people of Baltimore County well.
And yet … (pause for reflection) … not quite.
You see, despite his savvy background in government and the law, I believe that he has been absent on a number of issues. For one, since becoming county executive, he (as far as I know) has not instituted one investigation of any wrongdoing in Baltimore County. If anyone knows of an investigation that I am missing, please post it in the comments section.
As a counterpoint, some might say that there haven’t been any possible cases that should get the attention of the county executive. Just for grins and giggles, allow me to point out a few that I believe should have topped the list.
Number one (with a bullet) is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) case against the county. Here was an issue that brought the feds to our county offices on numerous occasions. Why? Simply put, the county was in violation of ADA laws. As a result, we—the taxpayers—were forced to pay out millions of dollars. And these payments still are not done.
Next on the list, the $21 million Mainsail investment debacle. There’s a doozy of a write off, folks.
Still looking for more? Try these on for size: the Whalen and Quirk rhubarb, Jim Johnston and his home aboard an HMS Battleship, and—last but not least—Mr. Oleszewski’s recent ethics issues.
I would say there are plenty of items that should get the county executive’s attention.
Mr. Kamenetz has promised to improve the ethical standards in county government (at least he did in 2011) but there are still some loopholes that need to be closed within that proposal. According to the Sun, Susan Wichmann, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, said “the proposal would be better if it would make officials update their disclosure forms when their financial situation significantly changes, such as with a new job. Officials file the forms annually, so someone could potentially hide a conflict of interest for a year.”
Like I said, loopholes.
According to another article by Bryan Sears, “The Baltimore County ethics commission will have more ability to enforce some ethics laws under a bill proposed by Kamenetz.” On the surface, it sure looks like Mr. Kamenetz is doing his due diligence. However, to quote the Sun, “The county has described its ethics laws — overhauled late last year — as among the toughest in the Maryland. But the State Ethics Commission has warned Baltimore County that it is not in compliance with a 2010 law that requires local ethics laws to be at least as strong as those state lawmakers must follow.”
So, is Mr. Kamenetz really doing all that he can do to overhaul our government and create more transparency? It appears as though some believe otherwise.
Finally, to close this blog, I want to quote the duties of the county executive from the county charter:
Sec. 402. County executive.
(d) Duties of the office. The county executive shall be responsible for the proper and efficient administration of such affairs of the county as are placed in his charge or under his jurisdiction and control under this Charter or by law. In addition to and not by way of limitation of his general duties of his supervision and management of the executive branch of the county government, he shall have the following express responsibilities, duties and powers:
(1) To supervise, direct and control, subject to law and the provisions of this Charter, the administrative services of the county;
(5) To see that the county officers, boards, agencies, commissions, departments and employees faithfully perform their duties, and to employ, with the approval of the county council, experts and consultants in connection with any of the functions of the county government;
(6) To see that the laws of the state pertaining to the affairs, good order and government of the county, and the acts, resolutions, ordinances and public local laws of the county are duly executed and enforced within the county;
(7) To make or cause to be made any study or investigation which in his opinion may be in the best interests of the county, including but not limited to investigations of the affairs, functions, acts, methods, personnel or efficiency of any department, office or officer under his jurisdiction;
You be the judge. Is there really accountability in the office of county executive right now? It seems that opinions vary.
And I think you know my opinion on the subject…
Next on my list for this series will be the county council. Stay tuned…