May 21, 2013 1:37 am ET
This past week, I attended the Greater Dundalk Community Council meeting. I have blogged about many of these meetings in the past, but this week’s meeting had a feeling of electricity in the air as the County Executive, Mr. Kevin Kamenetz, ran down his agenda that featured items on education, public safety, and the county budget.
The hot topic during the meeting—as teased by the headline of this blog post—was the potential sale of the Government Center. To say this stirred up the emotions of the meeting attendees would be an understatement; though, to their credit, the packed audience was much more respectful to Mr. Kamenetz than the folks that verbally sparred with the County Executive during the recent Mays Chapel shouting match.
However, there does come a time when the pin on the grenade gets pulled and, as the saying goes, one must face the music.
The discussion about the Government Center site began when Mr. Kamenetz basically said the neither he nor anyone else in the county government had any idea about the Request for Proposals (RFPs) that had been issued. He explained that there is a whole process that must be followed regarding the awarding of the land, and the process involves a committee that will examine all of the facts and figures before the council will vote on the issue.
Mr. Kamenetz said that following this process will keep politics out of it, but others in the audience seemed to believe otherwise and let that be known both verbally and through their body language. (It is amazing how telling the look on a person’s face can be…)
During the discussion about the RFP process, there were numerous references to the Seagram’s property. This seemed somewhat strange to me, but I suppose that there were reasons for including this information.
During the exchange, a number of people voiced their opinions regarding the potential sale.
One prominent member of the community took issue with the concept of selling the Government Center and other county land, questioning whether or not the sale would be cost effective.
Meanwhile, Bob Staab brought up the issue that the land is technically considered a park and, therefore, covered under the open space issue. Patricia Paul also brought up the current usage of the land, as she stated that the county was not being upfront with the residents and children in the area who will be losing their park.
The question of government openness was echoed by community leader David Patro, who added that his two requests to meet with the County Executive went unanswered. Mr. Patro then provided a document as evidence to his claim. Long-time community activist Harry Wujak said that he felt that there should be more community involvement in the process before the bids are selected. And finally, Delegate John Olszewski Jr. stated that he felt there was a lack of transparency regarding the entire issue.
It was clear to me that people want more of a say in this matter, or—at the very least—to be kept informed during every step of the process. Only time will tell whether or not this will happen, but one can hope for the best.
Another community leader, John Ayers, said that he believes a new school should be built on the Government Center site. This seemed to strike a chord with some attendees, considering that Mr. Kamenetz explained that 80 percent of the county schools are at least 40 years old.
Elsewhere on the education front, the County Executive explained to everyone that 53 cents of every taxpayer dollar goes toward education in the county. This money is helping to fund a new initiative that focuses on the K-12 educational system. Mr. Kamenetz also discussed the new Magnet and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, which are geared toward giving the public school students the tools they will need for college.
An interesting sidebar to the education/Government Center issue is that no matter what happens during the RFP process, there will be no effect on the closing of the Eastwood Elementary School.
During the public safety update, it was announced that Chief Johnson will have the final say about where the new North Point Precinct will go. (My bet is that Eastwood Elementary will be the final destination.)
The public safety portion wrapped up with discussion about all of the new crime fighting technology that is now used by the county. However, there were too many gizmos discussed to mention here. There was one surprise however when the Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger showed up regarding his efforts to bring back the death penalty
During the discussion about the county budget, we were told that everything in the county’s financial world is rosy. Among the highlights, $20 million in funding has been allocated for parks, and $28 million has been earmarked for road resurfacing.
My question is, “If everything is so sunny, then why are so many storm clouds gathering?”
Look at the facts. The county is attempting to raid pension funds, sell county property, and significantly raise the Social Service budget to meet the needs of the county’s poor residents for programs such as mortgage payment assistance.
In addition, the county has failed to meet court ordered payments on issues related to medical care. Also, the county continues to face the added burden of Mr. Homan’s continued treatment of ADA issues, which—in the end—could tack on millions to the taxpayers’ liabilities. There are at least 10 more cases pending, I believe.
All of this tells me that our budget situation is far less positive than we’re being led to believe. Quite frankly, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, please don’t tell me that it’s not a duck…
In other notable news from the meeting, Delegate Sonny Minnick announced that a new law will be taking affect—this law makes the use of cell phones and texting while driving a primary offense. That means that police officers and troopers that witness someone talking or texting on a cell phone while driving can now pull the vehicle over and cite the driver.
Last, but not least, Senator Norman Stone said the Section 8 housing legislation that could have severely impacted the east side of the county was defeated.
I encourage all citizens to attend these Community Council meetings. The only way we can get our government officials to be transparent is to hold them accountable in public. Remember, as Thomas Jefferson said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”