The years of internal wrangling by Anne Arundel County lawmakers about how to select a school board came down to the final hours of the legislative session. The House, for a second time this past session, unanimously approved a fully-elected board, agreeing to a minor Senate amendment.
Beginning next year, Anne Arundel County voters will choose seven members of the school board by county council district in a nonpartisan race at the general election. There will also be a student member with full voting rights.
The logjam broke as last month’s issue of The Business Monthly literally was being sent to the printer. That morning, the county delegates had rejected the senator’s proposal for a hybrid board, with some elected and some appointed members.
Standing in their usual meeting spot just outside the Senate chamber in the State House lobby, Sen. John Astle told the five Anne Arundel senators — three Democrats and two Republicans — that after the delegates rejected their hybrid version, if they didn’t approve the House bill for a fully elected board, “we’re going to wind up with nothing.”
Astle, the Annapolis Democrat who chairs the Senate delegation, had softened his opposition this year, perhaps reflecting his announced intention to run for mayor of the capital city after serving 34 years in the legislature.
“We’ve got seven days left; it’s not a lot of time,” he said. “We’ve got to get it done.”
Sens. Astle, Jim Rosapepe, Ed Reilly and Bryan Simonaire all voted for a fully-elected board, approving the House bill without amendment. Sen. Ed DeGrange cast the only no vote in the delegation and on the Senate floor.
Just prior to the vote, in the Senate chamber, Astle had received a standing ovation from his Senate colleagues in honor of his 74th birthday.
While the senators had blocked an elected board in past years, there were still several hurdles. The major one was getting the bill out of the Senate Education Health and Environmental (EHE) Affairs Committee, where chair Joan Carter Conway is leery of all-elected boards because of their potential lack of racial diversity. She was the only member of the EHE to vote against the bill.
It still had to come to the Senate floor, where Simonaire placed a minor amendment on it, meaning it had to go back to the House again for approval.
There is no reason to believe that Gov. Larry Hogan will not sign the bill, finally giving voters a direct say in the governing body that spends almost half of local tax dollars.
Astle for Mayor
Three days after the session ended, Astle made it official, filing as a Democratic candidate for mayor of the city of Annapolis. If successful in the primary, he will face current Republican Mayor Michael Pantelides, 33, who filed for reelection a week later.
It is a bit of an odd decision for a man who has spent 34 years in the legislature after an earlier career as a Marine and a helicopter pilot. Annapolis is a historic, old town of 39,000 residents with lots of historic, old problems that are the root of frequent battles between the mayor and the alderman, as it delivers all the municipal services of a much larger town.
Astle explained it this way: “I’m running for mayor to bring new leadership to our town; leadership that is inclusive of its citizens and gets results for our residents and businesses. Our city is drifting, and we deserve better and stronger leadership.”
“The mayor’s continued attacks on members of Annapolis City Council are dysfunctional, and because of this, no one is working together to take the city in new and innovative directions. His staff is a revolving door. We are paying the price of this bickering and unsettling approach. I will lead the change to address the growing needs of our city.”
Pantelides, who defeated Democratic incumbent Josh Cohen by a thin 59-vote margin, has a different take on his tenure.
“Our community faced a $7.3 million budget deficit; rising taxes, overdevelopment projects and other threats were made to our quality of life. I stood up to the outside interests on behalf of all Annapolitans.”
“We eliminated the deficit by passing three on-time and balanced budgets without raising the real property tax rate,” Pantelides said.
Grant for Shelter
“I don’t think people understand how tremendously important it is to have the speaker of the House in our delegation,” said Del. Pam Beidle, chair of the county delegation, speaking at the YWCA in Arnold.
Beidle, County Executive Steve Schuh and House Speaker Michael Busch were on hand to announce a $150,000 county capital grant for an upgraded domestic violence shelter. State legislators had come up with another $400,000 this year for the shelter.
The 7,000-square-foot shelter, which is designed to look like a large house, will provide rooms and efficiency apartments for up to 32 women and children, doubling the capacity of the current shelter. Construction is expected to start in October.
“Without his support, nothing could happen,” Republican Schuh said of the Democratic speaker, known for bringing home the bacon for his own legislative district that includes Annapolis and Arnold.
Busch said that over the years, he has been able to obtain $1.8 million in state funds for the $6 million project, which includes a training and education center and separate shelter for eight to 10 victims of sex trafficking.
Beidle had sponsored a separate bond bill for $1 million for the project. Busch also personally had sponsored six bond bills for his district totaling $3 million. On the surface, all these individual bond bills were rejected by the House Appropriations Committee. There is a very small pie for locally sponsored capital projects.
But through the magic of the speaker’s office, every one of the projects got funded in the consolidated capital budget, $1.089 billion in new debt. The legislature added $76 million more than Gov. Hogan had proposed. It is the only part of the state budget that the legislators can increase, which they do most years.
That included another $1 million for the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, the former Annapolis High School, that is one of the speaker’s favorite projects. There is also another $750,000 in a matching grant to the Maryland Hall.
Hogan can veto specific items in the capital budget. Two years ago, in a spat with the speaker, he did just that when Busch managed to get another $1 million added for the Maryland Hall, on top of the $1 million Hogan had already put in the capital budget. The legislature overrode Hogan’s veto of that item.
This year, Hogan chose to allow the capital budget to go into law without his signature and without any line-item vetoes.
Busch also got $200,000 each for two parks in his district, Bestgate and Hot Sox, that includes ball fields and dugouts. There is also $500,000 for a Cyber Center of Education and Innovation at the National Cryptologic Museum, next to NSA.