Don’t Let a Fox into the Council Chamber

Apparently conceding defeat on the repeal of the Watershed Protection Fee, Councilman Fox has pre-filed CB21-2016. The bill is blatant grandstanding. As if he thinks he would get 2 more votes for this bill that wants to express public blame for the who is charging the relatively small Watershed Fee  of $15 or $45 for most homeowners when compared to the total tax bill of $2000 to $6000 to protect our environment.

Apparently, Fox is hoping to bring the lack of civility and conflict found with the Board of Education to the Howard Building.

Imagine it is 2036, the notations required on the tax bill of the numerous attempts to repeal the Watershed Fee attempted by could be quite numerous. And would anyone care 20 years from now that it was Sigaty, Ball, Weinstein and Terrasa? Oh, and based on the current makeup of the Council and County Executive it seems that  paragraph c is written backwards too.

CB21-2016

WHEREAS, in 2013 there was a requirement for a Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee mandated by State Law, and

WHEREAS, based on that mandate, the County Council believed that Howard County real property tax bill should specifically point out that imposition; and

WHEREAS, Council members Courtney Watson and Calvin Ball filed an amendment (Amendment 3 to CB 38-2013) to that effect to place a statement to that effect on the property tax bill as part of the passage of CB 38-2013 that established the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee; and

WHEREAS, the Council vote was four (4) in favor (Ball, Fox, Sigaty and Watson) and one (1) opposed (Terrasa) to pass the amendment; and

WHEREAS, during the 2015 Maryland General Assembly the mandate for the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee was removed; and

WHEREAS, the decision to not repeal the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee was a result of the Howard County Council’s actions related to CB 52-2015; and

WHEREAS, those proudly deciding to maintain the Howard County Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee should have the honor of their names prominently listed as a footnote on the Howard County real property tax bill as the ones causing that imposition.

NOW, THEREFORE,

Section 1. Be It Enacted by the County Council of Howard County, Maryland, that the Howard County Code is amended as follows:

By renumbering:
Title 20. Taxes, Charges and Fees
Subtitle 11. Watershed Protection and Restoration
Section 20.1107. Billing; Method of Collection; Interest and Penalties
Subsections (b), (c), and (d) to be subsections (d), (e), and (f), respectively

By amending:
Title 20. Taxes, Charges and Fees
Subtitle 11. Watershed Protection and Restoration
Section 20.1107. Billing; Method of Collection; Interest and Penalties 6 Subsection (a)

Title 20. Taxes, Charges and Fees

Subtitle 11. Watershed Protection and Restoration

Sec. 20.1107. – Billing; method of collection; interest and penalties.

(a) Billing Procedure. The Department of Finance may include the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee as a separate item on the real property tax bill for each property subject  to the fee.

(b) The real property tax bill shall, IF APPLICABLE, include a footnote on each bill that  indicates that the imposition of a stormwater remediation fee [[is mandated by state law]] CONTINUES DUE TO THE FAILURE OF THE COUNTY COUNCIL TO PASS A BILL FOR SIGNATURE  BY THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE FOR APPROVAL THAT WOULD REPEAL THE FEE DESPITE THE  STATE MANDATE FOR THE FEE HAVING BEEN REMOVED, AND LISTING THE NAMES OF THE  COUNCIL MEMBERS THAT: 1) VOTED AGAINST REPEALING THE FEE, 2) VOTED FOR  AMENDMENTS THAT IN EFFECT RESULT IN THE FEE INCREASING IN ANY WAY OR  CONTINUING BEYOND JUNE 30, 2017; OR 3) WHOSE VOTES OR ACTIONS CAUSED A PROPOSED REPEAL TO FAIL DUE TO A LACK OF TIMELY ACTION, WITHDRAWAL OF THE BILL, OR ANY OTHER LEGISLATIVE PROCESS..

(c) IF THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE VETOES A BILL PASSED BY THE COUNTY COUNCIL THAT WOULD  REPEAL THE WATERSHED PROTECTION AND RESTORATION FEE PRIOR TO JULY 1, 2017, THE REAL PROPERTY TAX BILL SHALL LIST THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE’S NAME AS BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CONTINUATION OF THE FEE, INSTEAD OF THE NAMES REQUIRED BY SUBSECTION (B) OF THIS SECTION. Contact information for questions and appeals shall be included with the bill’s mailing.

#HOCOPolitics

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Howard Tourism – Thanks for Promoting Baltimore County

The Howard County Tourism Council website states that “Our organization is primarily funded through a generous grant from Howard County Government.”  So it is really our tax money that is being used to promote Howard County.

The Howard County Office of Tourism and Promotion is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting all that is wonderful and unique about visiting and living in Howard County, Maryland. As the official destination marketing organization for Howard County, we are IT–the first and foremost source of information for people who want to know more about where to go and what to see and do in Howard County.

The website states that

As a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting all that is wonderful and unique about visiting and living in Howard County, Maryland we work diligently to ensure that the economic value of the tourism industry to our local economy is clearly communicated.

Really? Are you sure that you are communicating clearly about visiting Howard County? Is this really about where to go and what to see and do in Howard County?

On the page on African-American Heritage after saying that “Howard County is home to several historical sites that focus on the contributions of local African-Americans” the first listed attraction is this:

 

 

 

Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum

A national landmark site, offering rare, significant historical and national treasures, the Park & Museum has been a jewel in the cultural and ecological landscape of Maryland for well over a decade, a destination with a diverse array of educational exhibits, performance and environmental programs. The park and museum are now located where Banneker once lived. The museum’s exhibits and staff tell the inspiring story of Banneker and his place in early American history.

300 Oella Avenue
Catonsville, MD 21228
410-887-1081.
Visit website

Click the “Visit website” above. The organization funded by Howard County Government takes the visitor to a page of the Department of Parks and Recreation for BALTIMORE COUNTY.

In addition, on this page Howard Tourism also takes the visitor to Baltimore County and to Baltimore City:

BANNEKER HISTORICAL PARK

This national landmark site was the farmstead of the original Banneker family. The 142-acre park is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Benjamin Banneker, the first African American Man of science.

300 Oella AvenueOella, MD 21228410-887-1081

Visit website

»View location »

 

BALTIMORE & OHIO RAILROAD MUSEUM

The oldest and most comprehensive historic American railroad collection in the U.S.

901 West Pratt Street

Baltimore, MD 21223410-752-2490

Visit website

»View location

 

Howard Tourism’s Facebook page even continues the misstatements that Howard County is home to the Banneker Historical Park:

Visist Howard - Facebook Banneker

No No No.  The Benjamin Banneker historical site is not in Howard County.

The Friends of Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit volunteer organization organized to promote and develop the park and museum in cooperation with the Baltimore County Dept. of Recreation and Parks.

 

Hey Howard Tourism you don’t have links to the Inner Harbor, the Maryland Fairgrounds, and the Antietam National Battlefield.

 

 

County Council Attendance at ACS Meetings Violate the Maryland Open Meetings Act

Association of Community Services - Conversation with Howard County Council Photo 1 2013

Dear Councilmembers,

I wish to express my concerns that your attendance at the ACS Howard County Council “Conversation” next Tuesday, February 23, 2016 will violate the Maryland Open Meetings Act. If three or more of the members of the Council attend, the meeting is really a de facto workshop meeting on human services issues.

The law obligates the Council to give notice of the meeting and prepare minutes. I can find no evidence that any minutes were created for any of the recent ACS Conversations in 2013, 2014, or 2015.

As stated by the Maryland Attorney General:

Also irrelevant is the fact that the quorum does not make a decision or take an action. The Court of Appeals has said that a public body’s “consideration” of public business includes all phases of its deliberation, not just the decision, and the Compliance Board has explained that receiving a briefing on public business is part of the process of considering it. See 7 OMCB Opinions 85, 87 (2011). Relevant instead are the facts about what the members discussed. If a quorum of members attends the same social event, the members are not “meeting” unless they gather and start discussing the public body’s business. See, e.g., 5 OMCB Opinions 93 (2007). Likewise, for example, if two members of a three-member board find themselves in the same restaurant or store, they are not “meeting” unless they start discussing the public body’s business. 7 OMCB Opinions 269.

In short, as the Compliance Board put it, “When a quorum of a public body convenes and discusses public business within one of the functions covered by the Act, that gathering is deemed a meeting of the public body, even when the quorum was created accidentally or the discussions occurred in a meeting not called by the public body itself.” 8 OMCB Opinions 76, 79 (2012). 

In addition, since it is a public meeting, the public may not be charged a $20 admission fee:

The ability to gain access to the meeting space must be provided to all who wish to attend. Thus, “a public body may not deny, through its choice of meeting site, the right of a person with a disability to observe an open meeting,” 1 OMCB Opinions 237, 239 (1997), may not restrict attendance to people who pay an admission fee, 8 OMCB Opinions 18, 25 (2012), may not restrict attendance to people on an invitation list, 7 OMCB Opinions 49 (2010), and may not exclude the press. 2 OMCB Opinions 67 (1999); see also 9 OMCB Opinions 290, 291 (2015) (meetings to be open to press and public “on equal terms”). The Court of Appeals has explained that “any action taken by the public body which discourages public attendance at the meeting to any substantial degree would likely violate the Act’s provisions.” City of New Carrollton v. Rogers, 287 Md. 56, 69 (1980).  

 

Therefore, I request that appropriate adjustments be made to allow attendance by the public free of charge and to comply with all other requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

 

Sincerely,

 

Joel Hurewitz



Annual ACS/Howard County Council “Conversation”

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
12:00-1:30 pm
Miller Library, Avalon/Patapsco Rooms
9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042

Member: FREE
Non-Member: $20

Register here.

State Superintendent Must Approve Foose’s Contract

Maryland law requires that the State Superintendent of Schools must approve each County Superintendent’s Contract.
*************************************************************************
Md. EDUCATION Code Ann. § 4-201

 

Annotated Code of Maryland
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Bender and Company, Inc., a member of the LexisNexis Group
All rights reserved.
*** Statutes current through 2015 legislation ***
EDUCATION  
DIVISION II.  ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION  
TITLE 4.  LOCAL SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION  
SUBTITLE 2.  COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS
Md. EDUCATION Code Ann. § 4-201  (2015)
§ 4-201. Appointment; term; qualifications; vacancy; removal; suspension.



   (a) Exceptions. —

   (1) This section does not apply to Baltimore City.

   (2) Subsections (b), (c), (d), and (f) of this section do not apply in Prince George’s County.

   (3) Subsections (b)(2) and (3) of this section do not apply in Washington County.

(b) Appointment and term. —

   (1) The term of a county superintendent is 4 years beginning on July 1. A county superintendent continues to serve until a successor is appointed and qualifies.

   (2) By February 1 of the year in which a term ends, the county superintendent shall notify the county board whether the superintendent is a candidate for reappointment.

   (3) In the year in which a term begins, the county board shall appoint a county superintendent between February 1 and June 30. However, if the county board decides to reappoint the incumbent superintendent, the county board shall take final action at a public meeting no later than March 1 of that year.

   (4) If a county board is unable to appoint a county superintendent by July 1 of a year in which a term begins, the provisions of subsection (d) of this section apply.

(c) Qualifications. —

   (1) An individual may not be appointed as county superintendent unless he:

      (i) Is eligible to be issued a certificate for the office by the State Superintendent;

      (ii) Has graduated from an accredited college or university; and

      (iii) Has completed 2 years of graduate work at an accredited college or university, including public school administration, supervision, and methods of teaching.

   (2) The appointment of a county superintendent is not valid unless approved in writing by the State Superintendent.

   (3) If the State Superintendent disapproves an appointment, he shall give his reasons for disapproval in writing to the county board.

(d) Vacancy. — If a vacancy occurs in the office of county superintendent, the county board shall appoint an interim county superintendent who serves until July 1 after his appointment.

(e) Removal. —

   (1) The State Superintendent may remove a county superintendent for:

      (i) Immorality;

      (ii) Misconduct in office;

      (iii) Insubordination;

      (iv) Incompetency; or

      (v) Willful neglect of duty.

   (2) Before removing a county superintendent, the State Superintendent shall send the county superintendent a copy of the charges against the county superintendent and give the county superintendent an opportunity within 10 days to request a hearing.

   (3) If the county superintendent requests a hearing within the 10-day period:

      (i) The State Superintendent promptly shall hold a hearing, but a hearing may not be set within 10 days after the State Superintendent sends the county superintendent a notice of the hearing; and

      (ii) The county superintendent shall have an opportunity to be heard publicly before the State Superintendent in the county superintendent’s own defense, in person or by counsel.

(f) Suspension without pay pending final disposition of charges. — On notification of pending criminal charges against a county superintendent as provided under § 4-206 of this subtitle, the county board may suspend the county superintendent with pay until the final disposition of the criminal charges.

HISTORY: An. Code 1957, art. 77, § 57; 1978, ch. 22, § 2; ch. 285; 1980, ch. 464; 1981, ch. 2, § 3; 1987, ch. 385; 1988, ch. 6, § 1; 1999, ch. 464; 2002, ch. 289, § 3; 2003, ch. 21, § 1; ch. 75; 2007, ch. 418; 2013, ch. 43, § 5; ch. 147; 2015, ch. 405.

HCPSS Might Have Violated The Open Meetings Act

I have been reading the accounts of the Howard County Public School System Board regarding the approval of Superintendent Foose’s contract renewal. I also watched the video of the meeting. (It took hours to get through it because it kept buffering, stuttering, and restarting). My ears hurt from the high decibel cheering of the audience.

I have looked at what the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board (here) and the Attorney General (here) have to say on the topics of the public being excluded, the room being filled and guards demanding that “these doors stay shut.” While these specific facts have not previously been considered, it would appear that HCPSS violated the Open Meetings Act by their deliberate actions to exclude the public. Those with first hand knowledge might want to file a complaint in addition to your online posts and letters to the editor.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the Maryland Attorney General’s Open Meetings Act Manual:

OPEN MEETINGS ACT MANUAL

OFFICE OF THE

MARYLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL

BRIAN E. FROSH

ATTORNEY GENERAL

EIGHTH EDITION (NOVEMBER 2015)

PREPARED by:
OPINIONS and ADVICE DIVISION
200 SAINT PAUL PLACE
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND 21202
(410) 576-6327

WEBSITE: WWW.OAG.STATE.MD.US

E-MAIL: OPENGOV@OAG.STATE.MD.US

 

 

A. The right to “attend” a meeting

Section 3-303(a) provides: “Whenever a public body meets in open session, the general public is entitled to attend.” That means that members of the public may come to a meeting and observe it. With one exception pertaining to the closing of a meeting (see Chapter 5), it does not mean that they are entitled to speak. See City of New Carrollton v. Rogers, 287 Md. 56, 72 (1980) (“While the Act does not afford the public any right to participate in the meetings, it does assure the public right to observe the deliberative process and the making of decisions by the public body at open meetings.”). So, unless the public body is governed by laws that require the particular public body to receive public comment, the decision of whether to allow members of the public to speak is up to the public body. Ordinarily, the management of the public comment period is up to the presiding officer. See, e.g., 9 OMCB Opinions 232, 233 (2015) (stating that the Act does not regulate the presiding officers’ decisions on whether to allow a member of the public to speak). Complaints about the manner in which a presiding officer conducts a public comment period thus do not state Open Meetings Act violations. 8 OMCB Opinions 84, 85 (2012).

The ability to “observe” does not mean that the public body must provide to the audience copies of the documents being reviewed by the members. However, the public must be given a grasp of what is being discussed and acted on. The Compliance Board has advised that an oral summary or general description of the documents in question will ordinarily serve this purpose. See, e.g. 9 OMCB Opinions 206, 212-13 (2015). Requests for records fall under the Public Information Act, with the exception of the meeting documents discussed in Chapter 6.

B. Size of the meeting space

Providing a “place reasonably accessible” to people who would like to attend the meeting includes holding the meeting in a room large enough to hold them. 3 OMCB Opinions 118, 120 (2001). The Compliance Board has stated that “a public body would violate the Act if it had reason to expect a large crowd but nevertheless deliberately chose to meet in too small a space when a suitable, larger space was available.” Id. Public bodies may include in their meeting notices a request that members inform staff of their intention to attend the meeting, and the Compliance Board has recommended that practice for public bodies without regular access to large meeting rooms. 9 OMCB Opinions 206, 211 (2015).

C. Access to the meeting space

As explained by this office and the Compliance Board, the public must be provided with access to the meeting. A public body thus may not meet in a juvenile detention center that does not permit the general public to enter, see 78 Op. Att’y Gen. 240 (1993), or at a private business that likewise is closed to the public. See 8 OMCB Opinions 188 (2013), cf. WSG Holdings, LLC v. Bowie, 429 Md. 598 (2012) (in applying open meetings provisions of a landuse law, holding that members of the public were improperly excluded from site visit to private property). A meeting may be held at a restaurant so long as the public is provided with places to sit and the members’ discussion is audible. See 8 OMCB Opinions 111, 114 (2012) (“the Act does not prohibit a public body from having a meal during a meeting; does not prohibit a public body from meeting in a private meeting space to which there is access to members of the public at no cost to them; and does not regulate the members’ choices of food and drink”). Members of the public who attend public meetings may be required to cooperate with the security procedures for the building in which the meeting is held. 9 OMCB Opinions 296 (2015).

The ability to gain access to the meeting space must be provided to all who wish to attend. Thus, “a public body may not deny, through its choice of meeting site, the right of a person with a disability to observe an open meeting,” 1 OMCB Opinions 237, 239 (1997), may not restrict attendance to people who pay an admission fee, 8 OMCB Opinions 18, 25 (2012), may not restrict attendance to people on an invitation list, 7 OMCB Opinions 49 (2010), and may not exclude the press. 2 OMCB Opinions 67 (1999); see also 9 OMCB Opinions 290, 291 (2015) (meetings to be open to press and public “on equal terms”). The Court of Appeals has explained that “any action taken by the public body which discourages public attendance at the meeting to any substantial degree would likely violate the Act’s provisions.” City of New Carrollton v. Rogers, 287 Md. 56, 69 (1980).

 

Update: Due to the overwhelming number of people reading this post and some of the questions raised on Facebook, here is the information on the complaint procedure of the Compliance Board.

 

School Board Reform 101: The Consequences of Piggybacking on the Councilmanic Districts

The Delegate Atterbeary proposal to elect the Howard County School Board members envisions piggybacking on the Council Districts.  The School Board is intended to be nonpartisan.  Yet, the Council Districts are for the purpose of electing partisan Council Representatives.  The existence of the districts are generally determined solely by the Howard County Charter. The rules for redistricting the districts are also found in the County Charter.

The redistricting process can be very political, with the Council members angling for political advantage to maintain their political power.  Frank Hecker writes in detail about the history of the redistricting in 2002.  A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 23  Hecker discusses how Greg Fox had concerns about which district his Fulton home would be located.  Hecker writes regarding the current Howard County Executive that “District 5 incumbent Allan Kittleman wants to move 2,707 voters from Scaggsville and elsewhere in southern Howard County from his district into District 3.”  He also writes that C. Vernon Gray and current Senator Guy Guzzone “warn that they won’t stand for further changes to their districts.”

In 2022, the districts must be redistricted again after the 2020 Census. Some people will have concerns about the districts separate and distinct from those of the Council elections–they will have concerns about boundaries for the School Board elections.  Will my child’s school attendance area be in District 1 or District 4?  Will District 1 contain any actual high schools, or will Centennial by redistricted to District 5? Can my child’s school attendance areas be aligned with the School Board Districts? The possible concerns are numerous and perhaps endless.

The Redistricting Commission as laid out in the County Charter is composed of 3 representatives from each of the political parties and one additional person appointed by the Council. If the School Board is going to be elected by Councilmanic Districts, then the process should be made less partisan and the School Board should have some say in how the districts are determined.

The Atterbeary bill should be conditionally effective upon a Charter Amendment approved by the voters of Howard County to have politically unaffiliated members appointed by the School Board to the Redistricting Commission in number equal to that appointed by each of the political parties–currently three. This proposal will give voters of Howard County an indirect referendum on whether to change the process for electing the School Board.

The redistricting process should also be made either fully independent or more independent from the Council’s political adjustments. The Council could have the authority to reject but not amend the proposal from the Redistricting Commission. Such decisions to have a Charter Amendment are within the purview of the County Council and the voters of Howard County.  However, I hope that as part of the consideration of the state legislation there will be some informal discussions with the County Council to see if they are willing to include the School Board in the redistricting process.

 

 

 

 

#HoCoPolitics