The Howard County Council was unable to overturn County Executive Allan Kittleman’s (R) veto of CB-9, a controversial measure aimed at codifying protections for undocumented immigrants within the county. Council President Jon Weinstein (D-Dist. 1) and Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) voted in opposition to the veto override vote.
“This bill would have sent a message loud and clear that we will not stand by while people in our community live in fear of having their lives torn apart,” said Council Member Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3).
“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and there could be a lot of good reasons to take this to referendum,” Fox said. “However, I think it’s time for us to put all the politics that this started with behind us.”
Weinstein said he had “made a commitment to work with the community and organizations on tangible actions to promote and support efforts to address the fear experienced by the immigrant community,” but cited his previous evaluation that the bill did little to practically allay any of those fears as his reason for voting against a veto override.
In March, the council passed a 4-1 resolution to indicate its support for the financing and construction of a new courthouse. Council Member Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4) cast the lone vote in opposition.
“This resolution, from my perspective, is a promise to go forward with P3 [a public-private partnership] financing structure,” she said. “I really am still quite uncertain that this P3 model will, in fact, work in relation to the other bonding that we need to do as a county.”
Sigaty said she would have preferred tabling the decision until the council had a chance to see the county executive’s proposed capital budget.
The council voted down a bill proposed by Kittleman that sought to restore some property rights to farmers who are limited in what they can do with their land under a state law mandating county-specific tier maps with different levels of residential development permitted for each tier.
Kittleman’s right-to-farm bill, however, received unanimous approval. The legislation makes plaintiffs responsible for legal fees associated with nuisance lawsuits against farmers in which a court determines the farming operation does not constitute a nuisance by law.
The council heard testimony in March related to the county’s plan for the $3.445 million purchase of a property on Mendenhall Lane.
According to Howard County Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Jim Irvin, the 50,000-square-foot building would facilitate the relocation of Board of Education maintenance operations currently housed in the Harriet Tubman Center, enabling the historic building to be transformed into a community center and museum focused on African-American history in the county.
The purchase also would enable relocation of the Fire Department’s Quarter Master Facility, the Police Department’s evidence storage and the DPW’s fleet management group from the Dorsey Building, which is scheduled for destruction to make way for a new county courthouse.
Irvin acknowledged that an additional cost of about $9 million would be necessary to renovate the Mendenhall building and install a more efficient air conditioning system.
Kathy Johnson, agriculture development manager for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, requested that the council endorse two Maryland Department of Commerce provisions of financing for two economic development projects.
The first, a $1 million Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund (MEDAAF) loan, would enable out-of-state pre-packaged fresh dinner manufacturer Freshly to relocate to Howard County and hire at least 500 permanent full-time employees.
The second, a $500,000 MEDAAF loan, would assist Pepsi Beverages Co. with the costs associated with the purchase and installation of machinery, equipment and other improvements for a new 175,000-square-foot automated distribution facility in Columbia Gateway Business Park.
Finally, Howard County Office of Transportation Administrator Clive Graham sought the council’s approval for amendments pertaining to qualifications of the administrator, duties of the Office of Transportation, and general powers and duties of the Public Transportation Board.
“The duties of the administrator, office and board are very narrowly defined and focus only on transit,” Graham said. “The effect of this legislation would be to make it more comprehensive to consider bicycle and pedestrian transportation planning and road planning in addition to transit.”
Redistricting and Audit
The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) has announced a schedule for community forums on school attendance area adjustments (redistricting) and school boundary alternatives. The forums have been scheduled to allow time to incorporate suggestions for improvement of the upcoming elementary school attendance area adjustment process.
According to an HCPSS release, redistricting will be necessary to open new Elementary School No. 42, in Hanover, in August 2018. Additionally, school boundary adjustments at the elementary school level may be considered in other areas of Howard County.
The forums will be held on April 25, 7–9 p.m., at Wilde Lake High School; and on April 27, 7–9 p.m., at Howard High School.
At both forums, HCPSS staff will present the revised Policy 6010: School Attendance Areas, describe the attendance area adjustment process and schedule, and receive comments from community members about the attendance area adjustment process, as well as alternatives for addressing crowding and capacity.
In March, the County Auditor’s Office released the financial audit of the HCPSS requested by the county council last year. The financial audit studied the categories of Special Education Services, Health and Dental Fund and Legal Services.
County Auditor Craig Glendenning determined that detail records agreed to audited financial statements with only immaterial differences, but noted that HCPSS used the Instructional Textbooks and Supplies category to pay for a $300,000 special education consulting contract.
The audit further concluded that services provided under the consulting contract did not comply with the related contract.
Auditors also found an error in calculating the payment due to the Maryland State Department of Health that resulted in an underpayment of $103,488.
HCPSS Superintendent Renee Foose responded to auditors’ comments by pledging to monitor compliance with Financial Reporting Manuals for Maryland Public Schools and continuing to work with vendors to ensure successful completion of contracts that are underway.