During the last legislative session and before dismissing for an annual summer legislative break on July 31, the Howard County Council overrode County Executive Allan Kittleman’s (R) veto of a bill that creates nutritional standards for food and drinks sold in vending machines on county property and mandates guidelines on packaged food and beverages served or sold as part of youth-oriented county government programs.
Kittleman criticized the bill as “an overreach of government,” calling the banning or limiting of certain foods at limited locations an ineffective strategy for reducing obesity. “I am committed to developing a comprehensive health and nutrition educational program for Howard County, encouraging lifestyle changes that are far more likely to produce results,” he said.
The 4-1-override vote mirrored the council’s original vote on the bill, with Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) casting the sole dissenting vote on each occasion.
“I do not agree that Council Bill 17 is an intrusion on personal responsibility and freedom,” said Councilmember Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4). “From my perspective, what it does is simply ensure that the contents of a vending machine on county property have a full range of options for people to choose from.”
Before voting, Fox said he saw things differently. “Other than sending a signal that the government is willing to be Big Brother, this bill does next to nothing as amended and approved,” he said. “It’s not amended, it’s gutted. It’s not the bill that we heard [originally].”
Electronic Cigarette Ban
Legislation to prohibit the use of electronic smoking devices in public places and places of employment passed unanimously, with a handful of amendments that included a provision to delay the requirement for the posting of signs until Jan. 1, 2016.
Councilman Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2), who cast the deciding vote to make Howard County smoke free in the second month of his first term, said he considered the legislation introduced by colleague Jon Weinstein (D-Dist. 1) a “good bookend” to his councilmanic career.
“This is a new technology, and there are things we’re still trying to get our heads around [related to this issue] and get ahead of,” Ball said.
Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) said his original concerns about the bill were satisfied by amendments introduced after the bill was tabled. “My only concern is that things that are being tabled are being done so for constructive reasons such as this and not for political reasons,” he said.
An electronic petition to encourage the council to approve Kittleman’s nomination of Savage Community Association President Susan Garber to the county’s Planning Board collected 185 signatures, but was not enough to sway the council’s vote on the resolution to the positive.
Kittleman nominated Garber to replace Josh Tzuker, who was still eligible to serve another year on the board.
Fox and Councilwoman Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) supported the nomination, while Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4), Weinstein and Ball opposed it.
“I think it’s unfortunate the way this is going,” Fox said. “I think Ms. Garber would do a good job on the planning board and bring another voice to the table.”
More potentially divisive county executive nominations are in the pipeline that are likely to elicit resistance from the council. These include the nomination of former Howard County Republican Club President Ivan Betancourt to the county’s Human Rights Commission, and the nomination of Columbia Pregnancy Center Executive Director Kimberly Hartman to the Howard County Local Children’s Board.
Kittleman to Chair BRTB
In July, Kittleman was elected to chair the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) for fiscal 2016. The BRTB is responsible for approving all highway and transit projects using federal Surface Transportation Funds throughout the Baltimore region, and is also responsible for ensuring that all projects meet regional air quality standards.
“I am excited about the opportunities to improve transportation throughout the region,” Kittleman said. “With population growth, aging communities and numerous activities involving our port, today’s transportation challenges are only going to increase and become more complex.”
As Howard County students returned to school on Aug. 24, Kittleman did the same, visiting a number of area elementary, middle and high schools to welcome children back on their first day.
Kittleman was accompanied by schools Superintendent Renee Foose, Board of Education Chair Janet Siddiqui and Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R), a Columbia resident whose three children all graduated from the Howard County Public School System.