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Howard County Sheriff Resigns

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Facing protests and unified calls from county, state and federal elected officials to resign in the wake of a Howard County Office of Human Rights investigation that alleged racial and sexual discrimination and intimidation, Sheriff James Fitzgerald announced his resignation, effective Oct. 15, and subsequent retirement.

In a statement, Fitzgerald did not apologize and did not address any of the allegations against him. “With a resolution agreed upon by all involved, it is now time to close this chapter,” he said. “My family and I need to heal and move on with our lives.”

It is now up to Gov. Larry Hogan to appoint a replacement, which is expected to happen in early November. The Governor’s Appointments Office has received several applications for the position, including one from the runner-up in the 2014 election, John McMahon (R), but is not releasing the names of applicants.

Lt. Don Knott will serve as sheriff in the interim until a new sheriff is named.

McMahon, however, is contesting the results of the 2014 election in a civil lawsuit filed in Anne Arundel County, claiming that Fitzgerald, the apparent winner of the election, did not take the constitutionally mandated oath of office.

“The 2014 election for sheriff of Howard County has not been legally resolved, and until it has, there cannot be an appointment made for the 2014–18 term because that term of office has not come into existence,” his attorney, Allen Dyer, said in a statement to The Business Monthly. Dyer and McMahon consider Fitzgerald a holdover sheriff and are asking the court to decide the matter.

School Capital Budget

In matters before the Howard County Council, the board of education submitted a Capital Budget request totaling $94 million for fiscal 2018 and a Capital Improvement Program request totaling $485 million for fiscal 2019–23.

According to Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) School Planning Manager Renee Kamen, the requests are lower than those presented last year as a result of working with the Long Range Master Plan Committee to prioritize capacity and renovations projects and defer other projects.

“Analysis determined that some roofs scheduled for replacement next year were either adequate or could be safely deferred,” Kamen said, noting that construction cost escalations and compliance with the prevailing wage law and LEED requirements added more than 18% to project costs.

The fiscal 2018 request includes $64.5 million to continue five construction projects and seven systemic renovation projects, including Wilde Lake Middle School replacement and renovations at Patuxent Valley Middle School, Swansfield Elementary School, Waverly Elementary School and New Elementary School 42.

Flood Legislation

New legislation before the council includes a tax credit for residential property damaged in the Ellicott City flood. Council Chair Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2) said the council would consider extending the credit to the rest of the county, and would also consider an amendment to include property damaged by a tornado this past summer.

Related to the flooding, another bill would exempt certain minor alterations from the Ellicott City Historic Preservation Commission’s certificate of approval requirement.

According to Beth Burgess, executive secretary of the commission, these are primarily cosmetic alterations and include signage, removal of noncompliant materials, in-kind replacements, paint colors, lighting fixtures, hardware and mailboxes, and minor changes to plans that have already been approved.

An increase in applications since the flood has doubled the commission’s workload, she said, and streamlining the process would benefit both the applicants and the commission.

Arguing that the exemption should be permanent, “We do believe that simple, basic, in-kind repairs should not go to the commission,” Burgess said. “It takes a lot of time out of the meeting and the people should not have to wait for their application to be heard, so we think that would expedite everybody’s process in this and hope that it is a long-term solution.”

Other Legislation

Director of Finance Stan Milesky encouraged council support of using the county’s ad valorem charge as a source of revenue for water and sewer capital projects.

“I’m a little nervous about this because of where we find ourselves with the excise tax for roads,” said Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4). “We’ve used the PAYGO [funding] up and used up the capacity within our road excise charge. I wonder if we’ll find ourselves in the same place.”

Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5), however, said he views the idea as a pay now or pay later proposition. “It’s one of those things we have to do the math on.”

The council approved legislation expanding the scope of the Environmental Sustainability Board’s review of studies regarding mold in Howard County public schools to include the latest air quality tests conducted by the Department of Public Works.

The council also approved legislation to enable construction of new indoor athletic facilities in western Howard County, to remove certain size limit restrictions on commercial solar facilities and allow their conditional use on County Preservation Parcels, and to authorize the Office of Law to take legal action to enforce the financial audit of HCPSS mandated by previous council resolution.

Legislative Preview

Business leaders attending the Howard County Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Legislative Preview on Oct. 26 heard state legislators’ takes on priority issues for the upcoming legislative session.

Del. Terri Hill (D-Dist. 12) said she considers mental and behavioral health issues a top priority. “We need to help get more Marylanders integrated back into society,” she said.

Del. Trent Kittleman (R-9A) said she will be introducing legislation that would require graduating students to pass the nation’s Citizenship and Nationalization Test, and would also like to see vision testing for students include testing for a condition called Amblyopia, which causes blurred vision. “Studies [indicate] a huge impact on the ability to succeed in school,” Kittleman said.

For Sen. Ed Kasemeyer (D-Dist. 12), the budget remains a focus. This year, he said, he’s interested in addressing problems experienced by the Board of Revenue Estimates related to capital gains that affect its ability to accurately project revenue numbers for budget planning purposes.

“The last two years they’ve been off somewhat, but this year they’ve been off significantly,” Kasemeyer said, adding that he’d like the Budget Committee to automatically reduce projections by a certain percentage as a budgetary safeguard.

Sen. Gail Bates (R-Dist. 9) said her priorities include education. “We have young people graduating from high school and college that really can’t get jobs,” she said, citing the governor’s P-Tech program as a tool that could help students better prepare for the technology skills employers are seeking.

“[It’s] going to go into areas of need and hopefully expand throughout the state,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly what we’ll be looking at with respect to education this year, but I hope we can expand on some of these opportunities.”