Kamenetz unveils free community college tuition plan for high school graduates

Kamenetz unveils free community college tuition plan for high school graduates
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, flanked by BCPS Interim Superintendent Verletta White (left) and CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis (right), touted the College Promise proposal as a game changer both educationally and economically. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz unveiled a new proposal on Monday, March 19, that aims to provide community college tuition for college-ready county residents who may otherwise be priced out of higher education.

Kamenetz announced the need-based “College Promise” proposal at CCBC Essex, alongside Baltimore County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Verletta White and CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis.

“This is a real game-changer for students from low or moderate income families for whom the benefits of a college education might otherwise be out of reach,” said Kamenetz. It opens up a lifetime of career income opportunities.”

The plan, which would require approval from the Baltimore County Council, would make up the difference between grants and financial aid and the total cost of tuition, which runs $1,876 per semester for a full-time student.

In the first year, the plan is likely to cost about $1 million, rising to $2.3 million by the program’s third year.

Kurtinitis estimated that there are approximately 1,100 students who have graduated in Baltimore County over the last two years who would qualify for the program.

In order to qualify, students must be county residents with an adjusted household income of $69,000, the median income for Baltimore County. A student would also need a 2.5 GPA and have graduated within the previous two years.

Those who have been out of school for longer than two years and those who need to take remedial classes first are not eligible for College Promise.

“This isn’t about giving anyone an opportunity,” said Kurtinitis. “This is about giving students who are college-ready an opportunity.”

Kamenetz maintained that the College Promise program will yield “transformative” results, both educationally and economically.

“We believe it will increase college graduation rates,” said Kamenetz, adding that a labor pool with better education credentials helps spur growth. He said well over 90 percent of those who get a degree from CCBC stay in Baltimore County, and that an associate’s degree from CCBC will translate to more than $300,000 in additional lifetime earnings.

White added that the opportunity to attend community college cost-free adds extra motivation to high school students who would otherwise be priced out of admission.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our recent graduates, especially those with financial constraints, to take full advantage of the tremendous education and career-advancing opportunities at CCBC,” said White.

The College Promise proposal also already has the backing of a majority on the county council.

“For the people in my district, this announcement will be a true lifesaver,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6). “Free college tuition will open up doors that otherwise would be closed. I am so proud to be part of this effort.”

Kamenetz noted that Bevins was one of two people to tear up when they heard about the proposal, the other being an administrative assistant in county government. Bevins has never been shy about noting that she was not able to afford college when she was younger.

The proposal also has the support of Republican councilmen Todd Crandell (R-7) and David Marks (R-5). Crandell commended the push to make college affordable, while Marks said he supports expanding community college and workforce training to all who need it, especially given the cost of the program. Marks did add, however, that he would have liked to have been given the opportunity for input before Monday’s announcement.

“County government works best when the executive branch briefs the legislature beforehand, and not surprisingly, that did not happen with all members of the Council,” said Marks.

With an enrollment around 62,000, many of whom return to college years after finishing high school, this program would not be available for most. In 2017, almost 38 percent of county high school graduates needed to take a remedial English class, and 59 percent needed a remedial math class, according to CCBC.

Similar programs have taken off all around the country over the last few years. There are currently 40 states with similar programs in place, and just last year Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh implemented a similar proposal in the city.

If approved in Kamenetz’s final budget proposal in April, the plan would be implemented for the Fall 2018 semester. Kamenetz is in his last year as county executive and is currently running for governor of Maryland.

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County landmarks commission rejects nomination for Ft. Howard buildings, property

County landmarks commission rejects nomination for Ft. Howard buildings, property
The VA hospital building is slated for restoration, but the future of the Fort Howard property is still uncertain. File photo.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission voted at its most recent meeting on March 8 not to accept a nomination for historical designation of several buildings at Fort Howard.

The Fort Howard property, owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), has suffered from neglect and vandalism - including several building fires - since the veterans hospital on the site closed for good in 2002 and redevelopment of the property was announced.

In light of the deterioration of the buildings on the property, as well as the news last fall that the historic Rosewood Center in Owings Mills was being de-listed by the state due to the “demolition by neglect” occurring there, a group of concerned citizens decided to nominate Fort Howard for historic preservation.

Scott Pappas, Fort Howard Community Association president and a member of the nominating group, told the Essex-Middle River Civic Council on March 7 that 21 of the buildings on the site have already been deemed eligible for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. Therefore, those buildings and some of the land around them were nominated for the county’s list in hopes it could give them some leverage to hold the VA responsible in preserving them.

“We thought as a body we needed to put this as quickly as possible into landmark status to preserve these 21 historic assets of our American heritage and culture,” Pappas told the EMRCC.

But Michael Field, attorney for Baltimore County, said federal supremacy prohibits local governments from imposing regulatory authority over federal properties. He added that the key word in the law is “consideration” and that it does not require adherence to local codes.

“So they’ve imposed on themselves already the requirement only to consider, and then to take recommendations from the local authorities,” he said. Additionally, legal action cannot be brought against the federal government by a local jurisdiction for failure to meet requirements or uphold those recommendations.

Field could not say for sure if the county is legally able to landmark the Fort Howard property. “But it’s meaningless” to do so, he said.

As a result, Teri Rising, historic preservation planner with the county’s Office of Planning, recommended that the commission reject the nomination, which Field agreed was the “logical” thing to do.

“To be consistent with the past actions of the commission, it seems reasonable that we would not accept this nomination,” Rising said.

As a result, the commission voted 12-1 to reject the VA property’s nomination for historic landmarking. Only commission member Louis Diggs voted against the action, and member Rose Benton recused herself from the vote since she was a member of the nominating group.

Benton admitted that she did not think landmarking the property would change anything, but raised the point that the buildings are not being taken care of currently.

“Four of those houses have burned down,” she said. “There’s nothing happening there. It’s been sitting there since [2002].”

The commission as a whole, however, felt it was the wrong venue to address the situation. Some members commented that the proper vehicles for the site’s preservation are already in place in the form of the Maryland State Historic Preservation Office’s (SHPO) designation of the property and the programmatic agreement in place between the VA, SHPO and the property’s lease holder and developer, Fort Howard Development LLC (FHD).

The agreement spells out what needs to be done, at what time and by whom to maintain and protect the portions of the property deemed historic. In particular, it states that the developer “at its own expense shall make reasonable efforts to at all times protect, preserve and repair the property and shall keep same in good order and condition.”

It further states, “Prior to and during construction activities, FHD will make reasonable efforts to secure, maintain and safeguard the historic resources listed... to ensure that they are protected against damage and further deterioration until the long-term treatment measures stipulated in the [agreement] are fulfilled.”

State Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6), who introduced a bill in the General Assembly in Annapolis that would require the state to acquire Fort Howard if it is ever offered for sale or transfer, called the commission’s vote “unfortunate.”

He said he generally supported the effort to have the property landmarked by the county, but acknowledged the legal conflict in doing so.

“What we essentially have is the inability to protect a historic property because it’s under a federal purview, except the feds have done absolutely nothing to hold the leaseholders to protect the property,” he said. “It really speaks to the need to have more local control over local assets, as opposed to someone in Washington, D.C. who has been, frankly, completely withdrawn.”

Grammer’s bill was heard by the House Appropriations Committee, also on March 8, and he said except for a few technical questions “nothing really of substance” was discussed during the hearing.

“I didn’t really get that there were a lot of strong feelings either way about it,” he said.

As of Tuesday, March 20, the committee had not yet voted on the bill.

The fiscal note accompanying the bill states that the measure would likely have no material effect on state finances because “there is no imminent prospect of the Fort Howard VA property being made available for acquisition.”

And according to Grammer, the VA has said the developer “still intends to move forward with the project.

“I find that very interesting because we haven’t seen any viable proposal,” he said. “So I don’t see this going anywhere.”

Timothy Munshell, with FHD, at first proposed a mixed-use development for the property consisting of nearly 1,400 residences. More recently, developer Sam Himmelrich presented a plan for around 300 homes on the site, but has been noncommittal about officially signing onto the project.

“Really, ultimately, what we’re looking for here is an opportunity to gain local acquisition in the case that [the developer] walks away,” Grammer said. “We’re looking for a backstop here.”

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Stats show east side crime on the rise in 2017

Stats show east side crime on the rise in 2017

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Violent crime is up in Baltimore County, according to the 2017 crime statistics released last week by the Baltimore County Police Department.

While homicides remained flat at 35 last year, violent crime rose 14.5 percent countywide. In the county, the White Marsh, Essex and Dundalk precincts saw the largest increases in violent crime.

The Essex precinct saw the biggest jump, with a 32.3 percent jump increase year, while the White Marsh and Dundalk precincts saw their violent crime rates rise by 25.9 percent and 22.5 percent, respectively.

All three east side precincts saw aggravated assault numbers skyrocket by at least 29 percent, with the White Marsh and Dundalk numbers rising by 37 percent. Across the county, aggravated assaults increased by 23.5 percent.

Robbery reports also rose considerably on the east side, with the Essex precinct seeing a massive 45-percent increase. The White Marsh precinct saw just over a 15-percent rise in robberies, while the Dundalk precinct settled in at 8 percent.

Regarding homicides, things stayed stagnant in the county, with 35 homicides reported on the year. The Essex precinct saw a rise from four homicides in 2016 to seven in 2017. White Marsh saw homicides decrease from three to one during that time, while the Dundalk precinct saw a 100-percent drop, recording no homicides last year.

“One thing we’ve seen is the result of the opioid epidemic in our area,” said police spokesman Cpl. Shawn Vinson.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz echoed that sentiment to the Baltimore Sun on Monday afternoon after previously declining to comment.

“Our police are well-trained, they’re well equipped with the latest technology and they work well with the community,” said Kamenetz. He added that the county has a “record low crime rate” per capita.

Kamenetz told reporters that his administration has been working to curb the opioid problem, which has ravaged Baltimore County. Last year saw the number of opioid-related deaths surge past 230 in September. Numbers for the final quarter of the year are not yet available. He added that he would like to see the Maryland State Police do more to prevent drug trafficking on I-95.

Exemplifying Kamenetz’s claim about record low crime rates, there were few areas that saw decreases in crime in 2017. Burglaries were down 15 percent countywide, including in eight out of 10 precincts. The White Marsh precinct led the way on that front, with a decrease of 44 percent. In Essex, that number was around a 20-percent decrease while in Dundalk they saw an 11.4-percent drop.

In total, Baltimore County saw a 3.9-percent increase in total crime, which consists of violent and nonviolent crimes. Only burglaries and motor vehicle thefts saw a decrease countywide, while every other category saw at least a minimal increase.

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Application deadline for school board pushed to May 1; public hearings scheduled

Application deadline for school board pushed to May 1; public hearings scheduled
The Baltimore County Board of Education meets at its headquarters off Charles Street in Towson.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Citing some possible public confusion about the makeup of Baltimore County’s new hybrid Board of Education and a thin pool of candidates who have so far applied for the four politically appointed at-large seats, the deadline to apply has been extended to May 1.

When the original deadline of March 16 passed, only 14 applications had been received, according to Aaron Plymouth, chairman of the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission.

“When we have to send eight names to the governor to fill four spots and we have 14 applications, that’s just not a real broad pool of candidates,” Plymouth told the East County Times.

Effective with this year’s election, the board will consist of seven popularly elected members for councilmanic districts and four at-large members appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, all of whom will serve four-year terms. An appointed student member serves a one-year term.

Candidates running for election had until Feb. 27 to file their intentions while those seeking political appointment faced the original date of March 16.

When the commission met March 5, members discussed concern over the number of applicants at that point, according to Plymouth, and decided that perhaps more could be done to better inform the public of the process, he said.

Because this process is new to everyone, including the commission, the group decided to extend the deadline to get the word out one last time.

“We also discovered that, according to statute, the commission is required to hold at least three public hearings about the process and we hadn’t done that,” Plymouth said. “So to satisfy the statute and to put forth the best possible candidates, we extended the deadline and scheduled the hearings.”

There also was some last minute confusion about all candidates being required to submit financial disclosure statements to the school board’s ethics committee, and this extension allows people a little more time to file that paperwork as well, Plymouth believes.

“This is just about us increasing our accountability and transparency and giving the public more access to the information needed,” Plymouth said.

The informational meetings will be held around the county as follows: Thursday, March 22, from 7 - 8 p.m. at Cockeysville Middle School; Monday, March 26, from 7 - 8 p.m. at Stemmers Run Middle School; and Thursday, April 12, from 7 - 8 p.m. at Milford Mill Academy.

The nominating commission has its own page on the Baltimore County Public Schools website, Plymouth said. He lauded staff for greatly improving the page, saying it’s easy to navigate and contains all the information potential candidates need, including the ability to download the application.

All relevant information can be accessed at www.bcps.org/board/bcsb-nominating-commission.html.

Applications can be mailed or hand-delivered to the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Committee, in care of Debi Decker, 6901 N. Charles St., Towson, MD 21204. Electronic submissions will not be accepted, according to a statement from the commission.

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Delegate Grammer’s BCPS audit bill dies in Baltimore County House Delegation

Delegate Grammer’s BCPS audit bill dies in Baltimore County House Delegation

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

A bill requiring the Office of Legislative Audits to conduct a special comprehensive audit of the procurement practices and contracts of the Baltimore County Public School System (BCPS) failed to make it out of the Baltimore County House Delegation on Friday, March 16, effectively killing the bill.

With the legislative audit bill dead, that leaves only one avenue for an audit, which would be done locally.

Drafted by Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6) in the wake of former BCPS superintendent Dallas Dance’s admitting to perjury for not disclosing outside income, the legislative audit bill was voted down along party lines.

Dance had received thousands of dollars from technology companies doing business with BCPS, leading to questions about how those companies’ contracts were procured.

“A couple people got sick and a couple who said they were going to vote for it suddenly pulled back out. And it’s really disheartening,” Grammer told the East County Times on Monday night. “The bottom line is we never want to have to experience this again in our county. Parents, teachers and students deserve better. Taxpayers deserve better.”

Grammer stated that there was cross-party support for the bill, but that it “evaporated” when it came time to vote.

“The people in my district were massively in support of this bill. I’ve heard maybe two or three people against it countywide,” said Grammer. “This is not and should not be a partisan issue at all.”

Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-8) voted against the legislation. He told the Times  that, in essence, a legislative audit would be redundant.

“We already have an [request for proposal] RFP out for a true third party review investigation and audit. I dont think it’s wise to have another redundant study at the cost of the county when we already have one going on,” said Bromwell.

Both Bromwell and Grammer blamed political posturing, with Bromwell saying that “a legislative audit is not a true third party audit” because it inserts a political body into “a situation I believe is already political enough.”

The Office of Legislative Audits, which would have overseen the BCPS audit, calls itself an independent, non-partisan agency.

Grammer stated that for an audit to be trusted, it needed to move away from Baltimore County.

“If BCPS is procuring an audit for themselves, is anyone going to trust the findings or the process?” Grammer questioned.

Grammer maintained that those opposed to his legislative audit bill want to see issues plaguing the school system swept under the rug. On Friday, after the House Delegation vote, Grammer took to Facebook saying “The cover up is complete.” He doubled down on that claim Monday night, saying that, in light of both Dance’s plea and the plea agreement of former Baltimore County employee Bob Barrett, local authorities were too intertwined and unobjective.

“These parties are all connected,” said Grammer, adding that there are too many “politically influential people who have been around for a long time.”

Bromwell expressed his displeasure with Grammer’s comments on social media, saying that he had a “very strong objection” to claims of a cover up.

“To accuse your colleague of criminal misconduct is not something that we do down here just because we disagree on a vote,” said Bromwell.

He added that he is in agreement with Grammer on the substance of the audit, just not the source. He cautioned that Grammer’s comments may come back to haunt him further down the line.

“This isn’t how things work down here and this, quite frankly, isn’t how you get things done for your constituents,” said Bromwell. “You don’t want to be the person who says these things about your colleagues from whom you’re going to need a vote one day, and they’re never going to forget that.”

Despite the fact that an RFP had already been submitted, Grammer believes it is the job of the state representatives to ensure independence.

“The counties are an extension of the state,” said Grammer. “They are not derived from an authority of their own.”

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County executive candidates chat with Greater Parkville residents

County executive candidates chat with Greater Parkville residents
Baltimore County Executive candidates Jim Brochin (D, left), Pat McDonough (R) and John Olszewski Jr. (D) introduced themselves to Parkville-area residents and gave their stances on several issues related to the area. Two other county executive candidates, Democrat Vicki Almond and Republican Al Redmer, did not attend the forum. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With Maryland’s primary just over three months away, political candidates are stepping up their efforts to communicate their respective messages to voters, while many community and political organizations are holding forums to hear those messages.

Thanks to a forum on March 8, organized by the Greater Parkville Community Council, area residents heard from 13 candidates, including three running for Baltimore County Executive.

Democrats Jim Brochin and John Olszewski Jr. and Republican Pat McDonough accepted the group’s invitation to weigh in on Greater Parkville concerns and priorities. Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves to the audience and to answer two specific questions as related to the Parkville/Carney/Cub Hill area: what are your priorities for the area and how do you plan to address them, and how do you plan to keep citizens involved in government decisions that affect the community?

Brochin, now a state senator representing the 42nd Legislative District, told the crowd he is “giving up a very safe Senate seat” to run for county executive because he is passionate about cleaning up key problems and improving the general quality of life in Baltimore County.

He cited overdevelopment as a key contributor to a lesser quality of life for county residents and blamed the “pay-to-play” philosophy he believes is rampant in county politics.

“Developers donate to candidates because they expect something in exchange for those donations,” Brochin said. “I’m going to end pay-to-play if I’m elected county executive.”

Brochin believes a wide variety of issues need to be addressed to make Baltimore County a more comfortable and attractive place to call home. He cited the need for additional bike paths, improved efforts at cleaning up trash, increasing the rate of recycling and adding more police officers and increasing neighborhood patrols as ways county life can be improved.

Addressing another hot topic, Brochin said he would work closely with Baltimore County Public Schools to improve its procurement system and help reestablish public trust in BCPS.

Pat McDonough, a delegate representing the Seventh Legislative District, is also giving up what many believe to be a safe seat to run for county executive.

The candidate, who has endeared himself to many by not sugar-coating anything, opened his remarks by sharing an experience he had with a group of residents at a local senior high-rise apartment complex.

“I told them, ‘If you are content with Baltimore County, you do not want me,’” he said. “If you are confident in the future of Baltimore County, I am not your guy.”

Running with an “Excellence in Education” agenda, McDonough was clear that he thinks a change in the top leadership of the school system is needed.

“I don’t want Verletta White permanently; she’s an extension of Dallas Dance,” McDonough said.

White was named to lead county schools temporarily after the sudden resignation of Dance, who was recently convicted on four counts of perjury with regard to outside employment he failed to report to the Board of Education.

McDonough, describing the Baltimore County Police Department as a suburban department serving an increasingly urban area, said he would like to see an increase in the force.

Olszewski introduced himself as a Dundalk native, husband, father and a “blue-collar progressive” in favor of universal pre-kindergarten and free community college tuition.

The former Baltimore County school teacher said it is important to address school overcrowding because it affects learning and safety. He also called for an increase in support professionals such as pupil personnel workers, social workers and psychologists.

Economic development, jobs training and the creation of arts and entertainment districts in the county are other priorities of Olszewski’s.

And in an effort to make county government more accessible and transparent, Olszewski said he would like to see county work sessions - where most public discussion on bills takes place - moved from the middle of the day when people are working to the evening.

After the candidates had used their allotted time, GPCC president Ruth Baisden entertained questions from the audience.

Carney activist Meg O’Hare challenged the candidates to weigh in on the topic of Fred Homan, the county’s administrative officer who many believe has been allowed to become too powerful and authoritative in the day-to-day operation of county government.

“When I get sworn in at 12 noon, at 12:01 Fred Homan is fired,” Brochin said, leaving no question as to his stance. “A lot of people involved in Baltimore County are there to enrich themselves and that needs to stop.”

McDonough said he believes the county “is infested with cronyism and corruption” and he would like to see a more open government that puts people first.

“Everything is covered up,” he said of government operations. “It must be totally reorganized within the first six months.”

Olszewski, while not mentioning Homan specifically, said, “If you’re going to chart a new path, the team needs to look different.”

The GPCC will offer another forum later this spring featuring candidates for state office, according to organizers.

Maryland’s primary election is June 26, with winners advancing to November’s general election.

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Greater Parkville Community Council hosts candidate forum

Greater Parkville Community Council hosts candidate forum
Ed Hale Jr. (left), a Republican challenger for the County Council’s Third District seat, as well as Sixth District Democrat Cathy Bevins and Fifth District Republican David Marks, both incumbents, each participated in the forum for their respective districts. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With the filing deadline in the past and ballots set for this year’s election races, many organizations are doing their best to make sure local residents are as informed about and familiar with candidates and their stands as possible.

The Greater Parkville Community Council on March 8 held a candidate forum for candidates running for county executive as well as third-, fifth- and sixth-district County Council seats.

Turnout was robust, with 13 candidates attending to share their backgrounds and agendas with attendees, as well as to answer two Parkville-Carney-Cub Hill-specific questions that were posed to all elected hopefuls.

Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves to the audience and to answer the two questions as related to the Parkville/Carney/Cub Hill area: what are your priorities for the area and how do you plan to address them, and how do you plan to keep citizens involved in government decisions that affect the community?

Ed Hale Jr., Doug Zinn and incumbent Wade Kach, who are vying for the Republican spot in the general election for the Third District Baltimore County Council seat and Democrat Bronwyn Mitchell-Strong participated in the gathering.

Hale introduced himself as a business owner with a trucking company in Rosedale that “runs 40 trucks in and out of the Port of Baltimore.” He said he is concerned about the amount of spending Baltimore County has done in the past eight years and said the county is “dangerously close to maxing out its borrowing limits.”

Citing the moves of Comcast and MediFast, Hale said he would like to stop the trend of businesses moving out of the county and added he would like more education attention paid to trades. Noting that “college is not for everyone,” Hale gave a nod to the success of an HVAC program at Dulaney High School.

“You have kids graduating from high school and going to jobs that pay [up to] $80,000 a year,” he said.

Zinn told the audience of his experience working with the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health and Baltimore County government and said he knows how to raise money and do it well.

He spoke of getting involved in his community and said that throughout his life, he has taken pride in his ability to take responsibility and follow through on tasks at hand.

Zinn cited the success of getting some underground water tanks installed in more rural communities as an example of his ability to see and attack a problem. He realized that house fires were hard to fight in rural areas without close access to water hydrants.

After seeing a local gas station close, he inquired about getting the old tanks cleaned and donated for use as water tanks. That conversation led to the gas company donating new tanks and his community was better prepared to save houses and lives as a result of him addressing the problem.

He agreed that bringing new businesses to Baltimore County is important, but said the infrastructure - including roads, utilities and parking - needs to be there.

Zinn told the crowd that, if elected, he will work full-time for his constituents.

“I will work just for you,” he said. “I won’t have another job, I don’t own a company, I will be your full-time councilman.”

Incumbent Kach said it has been an honor to represent the Third District and cited his experience and accomplishments while in office. He elicited some applause when he said he voted against “$43 million in corporate welfare in Towson,” referring to a recently passed council bill that provided a “bailout” to a “politically-connected developer whose project was failing.”

Mitchell-Strong said she decided to run after “coming face-to-face” with the dark side of Baltimore County when she opened her home to foster care five years ago. She cited the opioid problem, domestic abuse, homelessness and child trauma as some of the reasons she decided to run.

“I’m not here to run against anyone, but to run for our children, the future and the now,” she told the crowd.

She said her agenda will be driven by facts and figures and cited her nonprofit work experience as proof she can be fiscally responsible.

“With my nonprofit experience, I’m used to working on a shoestring budget, where every donor dollar is precious,” she said. “It’s the same with the tax dollar - every dollar is precious.”

Mitchell-Strong said she decided to run for office after realizing she could not ask her children to be the change in the world if she was not willing to do the same.

Incumbent Republican David Marks and Democrat John Torsch, running for the Fifth District seat, also participated in the forum.

Marks introduced himself as a lifelong resident of northeastern Baltimore County. He noted his ability to work across party lines to accomplish things for his district.

“The party doesn’t matter as much as principle and good government,” he said.

Over the past eight years, Marks has played a significant role in the district, getting three new schools and eight new parks, he said. He has held 20 town hall meetings in that time, proving his ability to communicate and keep constituents informed.

His major priorities for the community are public safety, schools, roads and open spaces. He is proud that every school in the Fifth District has air conditioning and that he has “down-zoned historic amounts of space” during his tenure.

“I have worked across party lines to advance the needs of my district and I have consistently supported reforms to keep developers in check,” he said.

Torsch, who is a professional chef and world traveler, described himself as the oldest of the three sons of two hard-working people who were in the room to support him in his quest for public office.

He told the crowd of losing one of his brothers to a heroin overdose in 2010 and said that loss serves as motivation to help his community.

“I’m not here to start a political career, this is my chance to do what I can in my little corner of the world,” he said.

With more than 300 overdose deaths in Baltimore County last year, Torsch said he hopes to do whatever he can to reduce those numbers. He also cited school violence and overcrowding as priority issues.

“My promise to you is absolute transparency,” he said.

The primary election will be held June 26, with winners moving on to the general election in November.

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Stakeholders debate merits of dredging oyster shoal in House committee

Stakeholders debate merits of dredging oyster shoal in House committee
The location and general shape of Man-O-War shoal. Dark lines indicate the boundaries of oyster bars mapped by Yates (1911). Yellow rectangles within the outline of the shoal illustrate the types of cuts anticipated as shell is removed by dredging along the perimeter. However, cuts on the western third of the shoal are no longer planned since those areas were seeded with oyster spat within the last 10 years. Image courtesy of MD DNR.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A bill to prohibit dredging Man-O-War Shoal for oyster shell brought the issue of oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay to the forefront on March 7 when the legislation was heard before a committee in Annapolis.

House Bill 1455, sponsored by Delegate Robin Grammer (R-Essex), would keep the state from following through on a 2009 mandate to dredge the prehistoric oyster bar for shell to be used to restore other oyster bars throughout the bay.

In testimony before the House of Delegates’ Environment and Transportation Committee, Grammer said his bill is necessary, first, because dredging MOWS is a “temporary solution.”

“For several decades, hundreds of millions of bushels of buried oyster shell from multiple areas in the upper bay were dredged for this purpose,” he said. “When the supply was exhausted, the program was ended and our problems persist.”

Larry Jennings, with Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, said the state’s Department of Natural Resources dredged more than 185 million bushels of shell during its four-decade-long oyster repletion program.

That program, carried out by DNR between 1962 and 2006, dredged oyster shell from intact bars in the upper bay to replenish degraded ones in the lower bay. It has been criticized by CCA and other advocates for devastating the bars which it took from and being ineffective for accomplishing its goals.

“That pile of shell, put in Ravens stadium football field [would reach] a mile and a half high,” Jennings said. “Ten years after the program ends, it’s gone. We spent a lot of taxpayer dollars to do that work with no residual benefit.”

Grammer’s second point on his bill was that dredging the shoal is not an effective solution to the state’s need for substrate on which to grow oysters.

“We have watched as previously dredged shell quickly degrades, leaving us with the same problem,” he said.

Dr. Ken Lewis, also with CCA, pointed out that DNR’s own application to dredge states the half-life of dredged shell on which to plant oysters is only three to six years.

“When it’s exposed to the water and other organisms... it does degrade,” he said. “It’s only a short-term solution.

“What happens if you dredge Man-O-War Shoal and it’s 20 years later and you’ve used all the shell and the resource is gone,” he asked. “Where are we in terms of a sustainable oyster population in the bay, which is what all of us want?”

Robert Newberry, with the Delmarva Fisheries Association, agreed that the shell may degrade more quickly in Virginia’s portion of the bay where the water is more saline. But in the upper bay it lasts more like seven to 10 years, he said, noting that there is still shell from the repletion program in the Choptank River.

“This problem isn’t because the shell wasn’t working,” he said. “It’s because an environmental group found it necessary to basically deter the permit from existing after 2006.”

Grammer’s third and final point was that the shoal is a valuable resource that should not be tampered with.

“Man-O-War has been a prized fishing location for the citizens of southeastern Baltimore [County] for generations,” the delegate said. “The shoal provides recreational opportunities that support residents and businesses. If a program destroys a natural resource that is unique to our bay as a temporary reprieve and does nothing toward creating a sustainable oyster population, it should not be pursued.”

Lewis said it is important to remember that when the 2009 mandate was passed, oyster sanctuary development in the bay’s tributaries was just beginning and oyster aquaculture was in its infancy.

“Since that time, there has been extensive experience with other substrates for setting oysters that have been very successful...,” he said, naming granite and concrete as examples.

But Chip MacLeod, an attorney with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, said it is “preposterous” that some leading environmental organizations say natural oyster shell is not that good for growing oysters, “that the shell Mother Nature designed for oysters is not as good as stone, debris and rubble.”

CCC, an organization of local governments on the Eastern Shore which advocates for fiscal responsibility in Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, has said the MOWS shell is currently covered over with sediment and would be of higher value to the bay ecosystem if dredged and used elsewhere as a base for new oyster growth.

The organization has also pushed for dredging the shell because it is already here in the bay and would not have to be purchased at a higher cost from elsewhere and brought in.

“The major point here is that in the last decade, we have learned to use alternative materials for growing oysters,” Lewis asserted. “And so the necessity for having shell is not where it was 10 years ago, because bay restoration and oyster proliferation in the bay has gone on for the last decade without dredging shell.”

He said there is “no justification” for dredging shell from Man-O-War. “It is a well-used natural resource on which live oysters are presently living and harvested, and it is used by a whole variety of stakeholders in the upper bay.”

MacLeod pointed out, though, that the shoal is approximately 456 acres in total, and DNR’s proposal is to dredge only 32 acres of it.

“It’s amazing that we’re losing focus of how important shell is to bring back oysters,” he said. “With the amount of sedimentation, we need to get the shell up above the mud.”

Allison Colden, a Maryland fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said MOWS is the last remaining example of what oyster populations in the bay once were.

She noted that the DNR permit proposes dredging 30 million bushels of shell from the shoal, which accounts for more than 30 percent of its total volume.

“And even if they were to dredge that amount, it would not produce a significant or lasting benefit for the oyster population,” Colden said.

She added that if all 30 million bushels went to the fishery and was only targeted to the top five producing harvest areas in the bay, only 2 percent of that bottom could be planted, one time. And with the lifespan of the shell, at best, those areas could be harvested just twice before the shell is gone.

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Miele looks for Maryland to move on from PARCC testing

Miele looks for Maryland to move on from PARCC testing
Delegate Christian Miele (standing) met with constituents and BCPS stakeholders for about three hours on Feb. 15 to discuss concerns about disciplinary issues in county schools. The first-term delegate also unveiled a legislative package aimed at curbing these issues. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last Friday, Delegate Christian Miele presented six bills before the House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee, five of which took a sharp focus on Baltimore County Public Schools.

Jokingly referring to his time testifying before the committee as “Delegate Miele Day,” the Republican presented legislation aimed at creating an anti-bullying task force, eliminating the PARCC test, creating an updated anti-drug awareness campaign and a bill that would allow schools to lease naming rights of fields and stadiums as a way to bring in revenue.

A good chunk of Miele’s time in front of the committee was spent on HB:1373, which would put an end to PARCC testing in Maryland.

While there are a host of reasons why Miele opposes the PARCC test, he  primarily pointed to poor scores and wasted school resources.

“What’s super deeply troubling to me is [in Baltimore County] our pass rate for the math portion of the PARCC test among elementary and middleschoolers is 30.3 percent and in English, 36.5 percent,” said Miele. “So we are woefully inadequate in having students succeed in taking this test. Another sticking point is 123 out of 180 school days per year are eligible to be used for PARCC testing. Librarians are kicked out of library for proctoring, resources are unavailable for extended periods of time.”

He added that the test has “created an onerous burden” on students, teachers and administrators due to the fact that the test can take 15 hours to administer per year.

Miele noted that there’s no federal funding tied to PARCC, but added that the issue must be addressed because the contract for the company that administers the test is up for renewal. He went on to contend that there are other available standardized tests like the California Achievement Test (CAT) and the TerraNova test. His sentiments were echoed by Jonathan Roland, a Perry Hall teacher who testified alongside Miele.

Roland said that this was not about  dodging poor assessments, but rather getting accurate assessments. The CAT and TerraNova tests have much easier formats, whereas the format for the PARCC test has to be taught along with the material. Roland also pointed to Maryland’s fall in Education Week’s state ranking, which Maryland topped for five consecutive years until 2013. From 2013 on, Maryland has dropped one place each year, currently occupying the No. 6 position on the list. Roland contended that the implementation of PARCC and Maryland’s fall from the top were intertwined.

“When my oldest children graduated, they graduated from the best state in the nation,” said Roland. “When my youngest graduates, we won’t even be in the top 10 percent. And that makes me angry.”

Legislators on the committee questioned whether the lack of success in Baltimore County had less to do with the test and more to do with the material being inadequately conveyed.

“Because students are failing, I don’t necessarily know that there’s something wrong with the test,” said Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (D-20).

Wilkins also questioned whether a test designed for California would be up to Maryland’s standards.

Roland told the committee that he preferred the TerraNova test, but that the CAT had been administered for decades until 1991.

Wilkins said it was a “conversation worth having” but remained unconvinced that students’ struggles with the test were due to problems with the test itself.

Roland contested that there is evidence the test isn’t working, pointing to the S.A.T.

“A secondary assessment like the S.A.T. does not show 66 percent of our students below an acceptable standard. The S.A.T. doesn’t do that. So why does the PARCC fail 66 percent of students?”

Miele added that only six states currently use PARCC testing, with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently announcing his plans to withdraw the state in the near future.

While Miele’s push to eliminate PARCC was received relatively coolly by the committee, most of his other bills seemed to have decent support.

When questioned about the anti-bullying bill, Miele told legislators that the plan was to implement the multi-year effort in Baltimore County and see if it proves to be successful. If the task force does come up with findings that can be implemented statewide, he said he would be more than happy to introduce legislation to expand the program across the state.

On schools raising funding through leasing naming rights for fields and stadiums, the only real point of concern was the type of content/business that could be featured. Miele assured the committee that guidelines would be established to prevent anything unseemly from being used.

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Bill to reduce Key Bridge toll rates questioned in committee

Bill to reduce Key Bridge toll rates questioned in committee
Metzgar’s bill would create an annual $100 flat rate for commuters using the bridge. Photo courtesy of Maryland State Archives.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Questions and comments were light Friday afternoon, March 9, on a bill to allow a flat rate for commuters who use the Francis Scott Key Bridge. But some lawmakers expressed concern about the amount of money the state could lose if the plan is implemented.

Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-Essex) introduced House Bill 1332 which would institute a $100 flat rate for commuters using the Key Bridge, allowing them unlimited trips for the year.

Paul M. Blitz, Metzgar’s chief of staff, said the plan would be similar to one currently in place for the Hatem Bridge over the Susquehanna River between Harford and Cecil counties, which allows unlimited trips through that facility for just $20 annually.

Blitz testified on the bill before the House Environment and Transportation Committee in Annapolis last Friday, stating that many residents of the areas surrounding the Key Bridge live on one side of the span but work on the other.

He acknowledged that Governor Larry Hogan had lowered the toll rates on the bridge and other facilities from $4 to $3 for those using E-ZPass. But the new program, he said, would further “help working families by easing the burden of traveling to and from work.”

Sherri Weems, a resident of southeastern Baltimore County who also testified on the bill, said the unlimited use plan would also make shopping easier for residents near the bridge, potentially generating more economic activity.

By comparison, the Baltimore Regional Discount Plan through E-ZPass, which includes passage over the Key Bridge, allows drivers to pay a commuter rate of $1.40 per trip for up to 50 trips every 45 days. That plan would still cost drivers using the maximum number of trips $567 per year. The same number of trips would cost $1,215 with E-ZPass but without a commuter plan, or $1,620 paying cash.

Del. Robbyn Lewis (D-Baltimore) questioned how the state could afford to maintain the bridge if they give drivers such a reduced price for using it.

“I’m wondering how that’s a benefit to people who depend on the safety and integrity of that bridge if we’re not paying to keep it up,” she said.

Blitz told the East County Times, though, that the Key Bridge currently generates more revenue than is needed to maintain it. And unlike other toll facilities in the state, it does not pool its revenue into a shared fund for use by the Maryland Transportation Administration (MDTA) to maintain its facilities.

In looking at the fiscal analysis of the bill, Del. Jerry Clark expressed concern that the state could lose a significant amount of revenue if the bill is passed.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, MDTA advises that anyone who crosses the harbor at least 34 times a year could save money with the plan. The agency estimates there are 45,480 Key Bridge users who could benefit, and if all purchase the unlimited use plan - which they say is likely - revenues would decrease by $6.4 million in the first year and $8.6 million each year thereafter.

However, the bill would also encourage some users of the Baltimore Harbor and Fort McHenry tunnels to purchase the plan and use the bridge instead, cutting into their revenues as well, according to the analysis.

MDTA estimates the total revenue loss among all facilities could be as high as $26.9 million annually, depending on how many tunnel users purchase the plan and use the bridge instead.

Additionally, the agency estimates the one-time implementation cost for the program would be similar to what it was for the Hatem bridge at $450,000.

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Sixth-District council candidates meet with Greater Parkville residents

Sixth-District council candidates meet with Greater Parkville residents
Sullivan (left), Robertson and Geelhaar aim to challenge Bevins in the general election. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Parkville-area residents had the chance to meet and hear candidates for local offices March 8 when the Greater Parkville Community Council hosted a candidates’ forum for county council and county executive hopefuls.

Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves to the audience and to answer two specific questions as related to the Parkville/Carney/Cub Hill area: what are your priorities for the area and how do you plan to address them’ and how do you plan to keep citizens involved in government decisions that affect the community?

Participating Republicans hoping to challenge incumbent Democrat Cathy Bevins for the Sixth District Baltimore County Council seat included Deb Sullivan, Allen Robertson and Glen Geelhaar.

Bevins, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, also attended.

Sullivan said she is running because of the “many complaints” she has heard in the community over the years. Her emphasis and experience is in schools, she said. She is a graduate of Overlea High School, as are all three of her children.

She has extensive PTA and fundraising experience, citing raising money to replace outdated tot-lot equipment as one example. She said she learned early on to advocate for the children of the community.

“My first love is the schools, and a lot of trouble is brewing,” she said. “Gangs are a problem, even though that’s hush-hush.”

Third-generation Middle River resident Robertson has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and has extensive experience in the banking and financial management industries.

Throughout many years of community activism, Robertson said he on many occasions testified before council members regarding many community issues and concerns.

“I’m here tonight because they’re not listening,” he told the crowd.

The candidate said he believes in term limitations and open communications and transparency and wants to reduce density in communities.

“We have crowded schools and roads and we have utilities paying us not to use electricity,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

In a theme commonly expressed by candidates throughout the night, Robertson said he is not a politician and has never worked for the government. He promised to stop corruption, look at the laws and govern fairly if elected.

Geelhaar, dressed in a blue T-shirt advocating for a new Lansdowne High School, introduced himself as a Parkville native and said he attended Parkville Elementary and Middle schools before graduating from Parkville High.

While attending Villa Julie College - now Stevenson University - he said one of the first things he noticed about his college experience was the individual attention from educators made possible by smaller class sizes. Reducing public school class sizes is vital to student success, he believes.

Geelhaar said the district is flooded with too much retail and said the glut of new retail construction in the White Marsh area has hurt White Marsh Mall.

He told the crowd he has a son with special needs who does not like to be cooped up in the winter and said he and his family frequent the mall.

“The mall is important to the community,” Geelhaar said. “It’s not just a place to shop, it’s a place to socialize.”

Geelhaar said his political agenda is based on the “three Es:” education, economic development and emergency services. He is concerned about schools with brown water and mold, he would like to attract more businesses and jobs, and he wants to see police officers be able to take patrol cars home at night to create the perception of a greater police presence in neighborhoods.

Bevins introduced herself as the incumbent “already serving the Sixth District,” having been elected for the first time in 2010 and then again in 2014.

“My passion is constituent services,” she said. “That’s what I did before I was elected, working with County Executive Jim Smith.”

She noted her role in acquiring $500,000 for improvements to Double Rock Park in Parkville, and said “$1 million in upgrades coming to this senior center if they aren’t already done,” referring to the center - the former Parkville Elementary School - that hosted the forum.

She spoke of 10,000 new jobs coming to the Crossroads development off MD Route 43 and lauded the recent announcement from Stanley Black and Decker that it intends to relocate to that same area and create a significant number of new jobs.

Bevins referred to herself as a common-sense leader and vowed to continue working on behalf of her constituents if reelected.

The Maryland primary election is June 26, with winners moving on to the general election in November.

PGCC plans to offer another forum, featuring candidates for state offices, in May.

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Empire Resources seeks to bring manufacturing back to Essex site

Empire Resources seeks to bring manufacturing back to Essex site
Empire Resources is located at the intersection of Martin Boulevard and Kelso Drive. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Empire Resources, Inc., has announced their plan to bring metals manufacturing back to the former home of Worthington Steel on Kelso Drive in Essex.

Since acquiring the former steelmaking facility in 2015, the New Jersey-based company has used it mainly as a warehouse and hub for its commercial trucking business. But Empire Resources now plans to covert the building, located at 8911 Kelso Drive, into a “cold rolling” mill for aluminum and steel.

The company anticipates creating 150 jobs through the transition and that it would be a 24-hour operation.

Larry Schmidt, a land use attorney representing Empire Resources, described the cold rolling process in that, after aluminum and metal alloys are produced from the raw materials in what is known as a “hot rolling” mill operation, they are then sent to a cold rolling mill where the product is pressed into rolls or coils.

Schmidt compared the process to using a rolling pin to press out dough for cookies.

“There is some heating in the process as they do that to make it more malleable,” he said. “But it’s basically taking this aluminum product that they get from the hot mill and turning it into sort of a finished aluminum product.”

The metals are then available to be sold and shipped to anyone who makes products from those materials, Schmidt added.

The attorney said the company’s owners do not anticipate any “unusual, inappropriate, offensive” noises or emissions such as smoke from the operation.

The operation would be required - as any other manufacturing plant would be - to get permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment in order to operate. But the company has already obtained permits for similar operations elsewhere in the country, according to Schmidt, and typically there have been no problems in doing so.

“They are always within the parameters of the government’s requirements in terms of noise at the property line or whatever it might be,” he said.

With regard to traffic, Schmidt said it would likely be about the same as it relates to the facility, but possibly less than it is currently. He noted that there could be slightly less truck traffic because the facility would have more employees coming and going across three shifts, rather than being used as a warehouse.

Of the 150 jobs, Schmidt said about 125 would be “pretty high quality” manufacturing and support jobs, including a number of electricians, plant technicians, supervisors and so on. The remaining positions would likely be administrative ones.

“We do see it as a great job creator and sort of a return to a manufacturing base,” he said.

The closest residences to the site are in the Aero Acres community, and that neighborhood’s community organization has already signed off on the proposal, according to Aero Acres Civic Improvement Association President Bob Driscoll.

Related to the project, County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, introduced legislation to the County Council on March 5 which specifies what type of zone will allow a cold rolling mill.

The county’s zoning regulations currently have no specific listing for such a facility or where it would be permitted. Bevins’ bill identifies properties zoned for light manufacturing - which the Essex site is - as the appropriate zone for those facilities.

“There are these land uses that come about where there just is no definition” in the zoning code,” Schmidt said, adding that the zoning regulations identify and allow hot rolling mills, but cold mills are left out.

He used solar facilities as another recent example of holes in the zoning code that were rectified using similar legislation.

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George W. Wilbanks, East County Times' founder, dies at 85

George W. Wilbanks, East County Times' founder, dies at 85

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

George Washington Wilbanks III, a successful eastern Baltimore County businessman whose ventures ranged from carpet manufacturing, sales and distribution to newspaper publishing, died of kidney failure on Feb. 28. He was 85.

Mr. Wilbanks was the owner and founding publisher of the East County Times.

Born May 1, 1932, in the small rural town of Ramhurst, Ga., Mr. Wilbanks was the son of George W. Wilbanks Jr. and Julie Ledford Wilbanks. He was raised on the family farm, growing vegetables and picking cotton. He graduated from Murray County High School and attended Young Harris College, both in Georgia.

Mr. Wilbanks married his sweetheart and the love of his life, the former Angela Geraldine “Geri” Hunter, in 1951.

Shortly after his wedding, Mr. Wilbanks received a notice to report to the Army Induction Center in Georgia to be examined for military service, according to “Memoirs of a Dreamer,” his autobiography.

In Baltimore at the time for the Christmas holiday, he instead went to a local U.S. Air Force recruiting office and joined that military branch. He served in Japan and France in the 1950s and ‘60s on active duty and as a reservist, according to family members.

After moving to Baltimore, Mr. Wilbanks worked in the carpet business and eventually partnered with Ray Jordan in opening RJ Carpet Distributors Inc. Mr. Wilbanks retired after a 38-year career in the carpet business, but not before embarking on a completely different business adventure.

He was recruited to invest in a group looking to expand the scope of The Herald, a community paper centered in Perry Hall. The investment group was looking to start satellite editions, and Mr. Wilbanks enthusiastically became involved in the Essex effort.

“Me becoming a publisher of a newspaper is about as remote as me becoming the governor of Maryland,” he wrote in his book.

It was not long before the Essex publication was enjoying great success, which Mr. Wilbanks credited to the hiring of newspaper professionals who knew what they were doing. When the unwitting newspaper publisher was given the opportunity to buy the assets of the Essex office, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I did and I have not looked back,” he wrote in his book. The result was the Essex Times, which later was renamed the East County Times to better reflect its coverage area after growing to include communities from Dundalk and Edgemere to Perry Hall and Parkville.

Angie Hess, the paper’s art director, was one of three original employees brought on board to launch the new publication in 1995. She credits Mr. Wilbanks’ passion for the mission and the community it served for making the paper the success it was.

“He had a passion for the paper, a passion for the community and a passion for the people of the community,” Hess said of the publisher. “He believed the community deserved a different voice and he was determined to provide that voice.”

Hess also said Mr. Wilbanks set the paper up for success by allowing employees to do their jobs.

“He was an awesome boss; he never hung over your head,” she said. “He knew you knew what to do and he expected you to just do it.”

Friends and associates of Mr. Wilbanks speak of two traits that he carried throughout his life - his strong and abiding faith in Jesus Christ and his wicked sense of humor.

“I was very close to George and I could sit and listen to him talk for hours and hours,” said Del. Ric Metzgar, a friend of more than 25 years. “I found him to be a very spiritual man and he proudly talked of his love for his savior.”

Mr. Wilbanks regularly attended his childhood church and then fell away from organized religion for a time, according to his autobiography.

One day, while standing on the pier at his waterfront home on the Back River peninsula, Mr. Wilbanks experienced an epiphany of sorts and told his wife they would go to church the following Sunday.

It was August 1979, and the couple chose Back River United Methodist Church because of its proximity to their home.

“I remember him telling me that he told Geri they would sit on the back pew and if they didn’t like the church, they would get up and leave,” Metzgar recalled with a laugh.

It was an anecdote Mr. Wilbanks shared in his book, and, as it turned out, there was no need to sneak out that first day; the church took on an important role in the couple’s lives, with Mr. Wilbanks holding many leadership and committee positions over the years.

In a public show of his faith, Mr. Wilbanks dedicated space on the front page of each weekly edition of the Times for a Bible Verse of the Week, and the Christmas and Easter week editions traditionally have the entire front page devoted to the birth and resurrection, respectively, of Jesus Christ.

As steady as Mr. Wilbanks was in his devotion to his faith and his love for his family, he was well-known for a witty sense of humor and a fascination with the scantily-clad servers of a certain restaurant chain.

“He always said he wanted Hooters girls for his pallbearers,” Metzgar said with a laugh. “And he would have arranged it if he could, but I think Miss Geri would have put a stop to that.”

Mr. Wilbanks was even more descriptive in expressing his funeral preferences.

“I tell everyone that when I die, I want 12 bawling and squalling women, six at the head of the casket and six at the foot, playing those tear-jerking country gospel songs,” he wrote in his book.

Metzgar said he will “deeply, deeply” miss the man he considered a mentor, a brother in Christ and a community leader.

“I visited with him in the hospital not long ago and it was a very memorable last talk,” Metzgar said. “I told him I loved him and that he had been a very good mentor to me politically, and he said, ‘Well, son, you’ve been a mentor to me because you stood by your faith.’ I’ll carry that with me forever and my heart and prayers go out for Geri and the family.”

Metzgar said he will miss the personal prayer sessions he and Mr. Wilbanks shared and the sense of humor that lightened moments and put people at ease.

“And I believe there will be an empty chair at Essex Day this year,” he said.

Outside of his church and businesses, Mr. Wilbanks was involved in many facets of community service. He served as a senator and president of the local JayCees; was a longtime member of the Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce and served as president from 1994-96; and was the organizer of several Essex Day festivals. He also managed the campaign office for U.S. Senator Helen Delich Bentley.

In his spare time, Mr. Wilbanks loved a good Western movie, especially those starring John Wayne, enjoyed bluegrass and southern gospel music and loved baseball, according to family members. He played left field while in high school and later for many organized community leagues. He especially loved the Baltimore Orioles and was privileged to know many of the players over the years.

Mr. Wilbanks is survived by his wife and sweetheart of 67 years, Angela G.H. “Geri“ Wilbanks; his daughter, Nancy Morales of Perry Hall; son David H. Wilbanks (Donna) of Panama City Beach, Fla.; four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and a host of extended family members, including many loved nieces and nephews.

In addition to his parents, Mr. Wilbanks was preceded in death by sisters Annie Lou Baggett, Aileen M. Baggett, Ethel Wilbanks and Mary Wilbanks, and brothers Jim, Ed, Marvin and Johnny Wilbanks.

The funeral service was held Monday, March 5, at Back River United Methodist Church, followed by interment at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

The family asks that those who desire make memorial contributions to Back River United Methodist Church, 544 Back River Neck Road, Essex, MD 21221, or the American Diabetes Association, 800 Wyman Park Drive, Suite 110, Baltimore, MD 21211.

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Resident seeks historical designation of Fort Howard VA property

Resident seeks historical designation of Fort Howard VA property
The VA hospital building is slated for restoration, but the future of the Fort Howard property is still uncertain. File photo.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A resident of the Fort Howard community has filed a request with Baltimore County to include more than 20 buildings on the federally owned Fort Howard site on the county’s historical landmarks list due to their historical significance.

The Baltimore County landmark nomination form, submitted by Scott Pappas, lists some 21 buildings or locations on the roughly 100-acre property, which is currently owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Those sites were chosen because they are listed as historic buildings in the 2013 Programmatic Agreement for the future development of the property, according to the form.

The county’s Landmarks Preservation Commission had previously denied the Fort Howard buildings’ inclusion on the landmarks list finding that they do not have jurisdiction over federally owned property. However, Pappas appealed that decision and the commission will discuss the issue at its next meeting on March 8, according to commission member Rose Benton.

Benton, the Seventh Councilmanic District’s representative on the commission, said at the North Point Peninsula Council’s March 1 meeting that they use four criteria to determine if a property is historic and worthy of placement on the list. They look at whether or not it is associated with a personality, group event or series of events of historical importance; if it is a distinctive example of a particular architectural style or period; if it is a good example of the work of a noted architect or master builder; and if it is a work of notable artistic merit.

“Not every property has to meet all those criteria, but it should meet a couple of them,” she said.

The nomination form states that the buildings and locations nominated fall under the first two criteria.

Asked if the property would qualify for placement on the county’s landmarks list if it was not owned by the federal government, Benton said she believes it would.

However, she said if the property were going to be landmarked by the county, the VA - and the federal government as a whole - would likely have to give up ownership of it.

“According to the legal research that the landmarks commission has done, Fort Howard is not eligible to be landmarked as a Baltimore County landmark because the county has no jurisdiction over it,” Benton said. “As long as it’s federally owned property, they really have no ability to.”

She pointed out that other historic sites in the county, such as the Hampton Mansion in Towson, were landmarked by the county before they became federal property.

An established “pecking order” for the VA to transfer the property to another person or entity would see the property first offered to agencies involved in homelessness and homeless advocacy, according to NPC President Francis Taylor. If they did not want the property, it would then be offered to Native American groups, then to other federal agencies, then the state, then the county and finally it would be offered for sale to the general public.

Benton doubted “seriously” that the county would be willing to take ownership of the property, especially given the potential for environmental contamination there that has yet to be addressed.

Fort Howard is historically landmarked by the State of Maryland, however. And Benton said last Thursday that she brought up at the commission’s February meeting that even if the county has no jurisdiction over the property, they end up being responsible for the fires, injuries or other incidents that occur on the site.

“The fire department is tired of going over there,” she said. “So even if the county can’t landmark it to protect it, it is landmarked as a Maryland state landmark. Therefore, I think what we may have to do is start harassing the State of Maryland to do something about it.”

A bill introduced by Del. Robin Grammer (R-6) in the General Assembly in Annapolis, if passed, would direct the state to acquire the Fort Howard site should the VA ever offer it up.

Taylor expressed concern, though, that whoever acquires the property will have some heavy expenses immediately after taking over.

“Just as a state taxpayer, I don’t know if that’s what the state wants to take on,” he said. “It would be a great park, it would be a great anything for open space. But it’s not as easy, I don’t think, as it sounds.”

Other community members lamented that the state’s historical designation has so far provided the buildings at Fort Howard with little, if any, protection and were skeptical that a county designation would be any better.

Benton said that, in her opinion, the county is more proactive when it comes to landmarks preservation, but agreed that the county’s pockets are not as deep as the state’s for doing so.

Pappas had not responded by press time to requests for comment regarding his motivations for nominating the Fort Howard buildings or what added protection he believes a county designation would provide. However, he told the Essex-Middle River Civic Council in December that he sought to create a historic district at the site consisting of “all 21 buildings at the veterans facility.”

He said at the time that he and supporters of the effort wanted to name the district after the late Al Clasing Jr. for his fierce advocacy for veterans and for keeping Fort Howard as a place for veterans.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will meet to discuss the issue on Thursday, March 8, at 6 p.m. in Room 104 of the Jefferson Building, 105 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson. The meeting is open to the public.

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MDOT determines Nawrocki misused state credit card while at MTA

MDOT determines Nawrocki misused state credit card while at MTA
The Maryland Department of Transportation found through an audit that Ryan Nawrocki - now a candidate for Baltimore County Council - charged what they determined to be personal expenses to his state credit card while working for the Maryland Transit Administration. Photo courtesy of Mass Transit Magazine.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

An audit of corporate purchasing transactions at the Maryland Department of Transportation showed that Ryan Nawrocki, while serving as the director of communications at the Maryland Transit Administration, charged his state-issued credit card for nearly $2,000 in purchases deemed not permitted.

Nawrocki left the state agency in July 2017 and is currently a candidate for Baltimore County Council in the Sixth District.

The audit, which covered the period from June 2016 to June 2017, initially found that $2,307.90 had been improperly charged to the state for things like food and beverage supplies for a Keurig coffee maker, gas for his car, napkins, hand sanitizer, tissues, furniture polish, catering, a hotel stay and a ticket to an awards luncheon.

A letter, obtained by the East County Times, detailing the charges and requesting repayment was sent to Nawrocki in November.

However, MDOT sent a revised letter and bill, also obtained by the Times, to Nawrocki on Monday, March 5, updating the requested repayment total as $471.01. They had determined that $202.82 worth of gas purchases were approved due to the use of a state vehicle during business hours, and $169.07 for catering had been approved previously for a training function.

Additionally, $890 for an Atlanta, Ga., hotel stay and a $575 ticket to an awards luncheon, both purchased for a MTA contractor, had been reimbursed by that contractor, the documents show.

MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson said the department has not yet received payment from Nawrocki and was awaiting his response before sending the claim to the agency’s debt collection arm.

Nawrocki who lives in Middle River, said he was unaware of the issue and had not received the letters, believing they were likely sent to his former address in Rosedale. But he denied that any of the charges were actually for personal expenses.

“I’ve never made personal [purchases] for myself for napkins or a Keurig or whatever,” he said, noting that he was in charge of the communications and marketing department for MTA. “So obviously we had coffee in the office that guests, when they would come in, could utilize.”

He said his department would also host events, so many of the purchases while in the position were related to those.

Regarding the hotel stay and awards luncheon ticket, Nawrocki said the person for whom those were purchased is a contractor with MTA. They attended a social media conference in Atlanta, he said, on behalf of MTA.

“We went through all the proper protocols and procedures,” he said. “Any time that I ever had any work-related expenditures for travel, not only would they be signed off on by my supervisor who was the MTA chief of staff, but they were also then signed off on by the administrator of the MTA.”

Regarding the luncheon ticket, Nawrocki explained it in much the same way. “Again, the chief of staff and the administrator would have signed off on all that because I never just did anything unilaterally.”

The audit documents state, however, that contractors must pay for their own employees’ expenses.

Nawrocki responded to that by stating that, if that is the case, he should not have received approval in the first place from his two immediate supervisors.

“I was following all the proper protocols which we’re supposed to go through,” he said.

Nawrocki explained away the other charges listed, such as the hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, as things purchased for use by MTA employees around the office.

“None of these are expenses that are outside the ordinary of sort of regular, normal business practices,” he said. “I’m sure if I have a conversation they’ll see that the rest of these are all legitimate business expenses.”

He expressed that the issue could likely have been cleared up easily if he had received the information and letters from MDOT and maintained that he properly followed all of MTA’s required protocols in charging the expenses to the state-issued credit card.

“I submitted to my direct supervisor and then got approval on all travel from my direct supervisor and his supervisor, the administrator,” he said. “That’s the procedure that we were told to do.”

In addition, Nawrocki said the charges had to have been initially approved by the MTA’s finance office as well before they would submit payment for the expenses.

“So there were three different stops along the way who all said yes, I was following the proper protocols,” he said.

Nawrocki said it is unfortunate that even three layers of approval was apparently still not enough to account for things he said were done completely by the books.

“That sort of speaks to what we’re focused on in this campaign and reforming these big bureaucracies,” he said.

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Klausmeier’s pharmacy ‘gag rule’ bill passes through Senate committee

Klausmeier’s pharmacy ‘gag rule’ bill passes through Senate committee
Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative President Vinny DeMarco (left) joined Katie Roberts of the Arthritis Foundation and Tammy Bresnahan of AARP Maryland to testify in support of the "gag rule" bill. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A bill to prohibit the practice of so-called “gag rules” between pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) regarding prescription drugs was given a unanimous favorable review by a state senate committee last Wednesday, Feb. 28, in Annapolis.

Seeing no opposition to the bill and that any potential issues had “already been worked out,” the Senate Finance Committee voted on the bill immediately following its hearing Wednesday evening.

“In essence this bill is, if you picture yourself going into a pharmacy and asking for your prescription and you pay $20 for a co-pay and you walk out of the pharmacy and you realize... if you didn’t use your [insurance], it would only cost you $5,” said Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-Perry Hall), the bill’s sponsor.

She added that such situations come about because of PBMs making agreements between pharmacies, drug companies and insurance companies that bar pharmacists from telling customers about the price difference.

“This bill prohibits [contracts that bar] pharmacists from telling you that the co-pay is more than the actual cost of the drug,” she said.

“It is common sense,” the senator continued. “That pharmacist should be able to tell you, but right now that doesn’t happen.”

Tammy Bresnahan of AARP Maryland, who testified in support of the bill, said the organization surveyed 1,700 members this year about their legislative priorities and more than 80 percent said prescription drug costs were their main concern.

Katie Roberts, with the Arthritis Foundation, said when budgets are tight families have to make a choice between their prescription drugs, school supplies, a family outing and other tough decisions like putting food on the table.

“We strongly feel that consumers and patients should be able to make informed, educated decisions about their health care costs and be able to make price comparisons at the point of sale,” Roberts said. “We need to allow pharmacists to do their job, not only making the relationships with the customers and the patients with that trust, but also helping them inform consumers on the right decision.”

The bill, being pushed by the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, enjoyed concurring support from the League of Life and Health Insurers of Maryland, MedChi and even the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, a PBM organization.

Michael Johanssen, speaking on behalf of PCMA, said the gag rules are not a widespread practice and the association was comfortable supporting the bill.

“We do think it’s the right thing, and many of our members already do this,” he said.

A staffer from Klausmeier’s office confirmed that all parties concerned with the bill were able to come together on acceptable language for the bill that made everyone happy, for which Johanssen said he was appreciative.

Also heard by the committee last Wednesday, albeit not voted on, was MCHI’s keystone bill  for this year’s legislative session, the proposal to establish a Prescription Drug Cost Review Commission. The commission would be able to set acceptable prices for certain drugs and hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for large price increases on drugs, according to the bill which is sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) and co-sponsored by Klausmeier.

Supporters of the commission bill, including the Baltimore City Health Department’s senior medical advisor, Shelly Chu, believe it would build on the success of the price gouging bill which passed last year.

Jane Horbath, with the National Academy for Health Policy, said the bill addresses the transparency of prescription drugs by forcing drug companies to justify their prices and price increases.

Pharmaceutical company representatives, however, testified that the bill could destabilize the market for generic drugs even more than the 2017 law did.

Additionally, they said setting drug prices could decrease access to drugs, especially generic ones, because companies would not be able to make a profit. This, they said, would lead to companies laying off employees and opting not to produce some drugs.

That bill has not yet received a vote from the committee, according to the state’s General Assembly website.

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Miele opens campaign headquarters as state senate race begins to heat up

Miele opens campaign headquarters as state senate race begins to heat up
Del. Christian Miele (center, with scissors), cuts the ribbon on his new campaign headquarters in his run for State Senate. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

With the filing deadline for the 2018 Gubernatorial primary passed, races around the state have taken shape. One of the races with the biggest implications in the state is the District 8 State Senate race, which will see Delegate Christian Miele, a Republican, likely square off against incumbent Kathy Klausmeier, a Democrat who has held the seat since 2002.

The race promises to be tight, with Miele receiving the support of Governor Hogan and Klausmeier entering the race with a massive warchest and four terms’ worth of name recognition.

While Klausmeier has the name recognition and funding, Miele thinks he has an advantage over her.

“She can’t run on her record,” said Miele to a crowd of 70-plus at a ribbon cutting event for his campaign headquarters on Saturday, March 3. “The senator is a nice person, but she has unfortunately voted for bills that hurt working families, small businesses and seniors, like voting for the Rain Tax and voting to increase the Nursing Home Tax Act by nearly 40 percent.”

Klausmeier did not respond by press time to requests for comment for this article.

Miele portrayed his campaign as a “grassroots effort” at the ribbon cutting, highlighting his efforts to increase school safety while tying himself to Hogan.

“This campaign is going to be aspirational,” said Miele. “We have so much to work on in our community,” he said, citing growing concerns about school safety and corruption in the county school system.

Just two weeks ago, Miele unveiled a half-dozen bills aimed at increasing security and curbing violence in schools, as well as adding punitive measures for those who bring firearms onto school grounds.

Miele praised Hogan for his work on job creation,  cutting taxes, environmental protection and school oversight, but noted that while Maryland might be moving in the right direction, he thinks Baltimore County is going the other way.

“Baltimore County currently is moving in the wrong direction, and we’re going to get it back on track because we’re all so proud to be members of this community,” Miele said.

Miele was primarily focused on espousing a message of positivity, but he did take aim at campaign contributions to Klausmeier, specifically stating that an overwhelming majority of the donations have come from outside of her district.

“The senator, after a cursory review of her public campaign financial disclosures, takes over 90 percent of her donations from special interests outside the district,” said Miele.

Recent campaign finance reports show that Klausmeier has $194,327.09 in her coffers, with $116,224.99 being rolled over. In the last filing quarter, she reported raising $111,191.05 and spending a little over $30,000.

Of the $111,191 raised last year, $20,000 came from Political Action Committees, while $5,700 came from candidate slate accounts. Notably, Klausmeier has received a decent chunk of change from health and pharmaceutical groups, including Walgreens ($750),  Rite Aid ($500), UnitedHealth ($1,500) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which has given Klausmeier $2,500 to date. She has also accepted $1,250 from Caremark, the prescription benefit management subsidiary of CVS Health.

For his part, Miele has kept things within his district, by and large, with less than half of his donations coming from outside District 8.

Miele’s financial filings are relatively bland, with the freshman legislator raising a shade over $60,000 last year, most of which came from individual donors.

When it comes to Miele’s filing, what sticks out the most is the inclusion of donations from Max Davidson, a patients’ rights advocate who lobbies on behalf of the medical marijuana industry. Since May of 2016, Davidson has contributed close to $1,000 to Miele, and just before the filing deadline closed at the end of February, Davidson filed in District 8 to run as a Democrat to challenge Klausmeier.

A look at Davidson’s donations over previous years show him donating primarily to Republicans, totaling over $1,700 in donations to them. Those include donations to Miele, Delegate Ric Metzgar, Delegate Kathy Szeliga and others around the state. He has also contributed to Democrats, though the amount contributed to Democrats totals just $392.

A post on the website The Seventh State, run by American University professor David Lublin, portrays
Davidson’s entry into the race as an underhanded bid by Miele and Republicans to “soften” up Klausmeier, a charge Miele and Davidson vehemently denied.

“Rather than being eager to take on his favorite state legislator, Davidson’s candidacy smacks heavily of a Republican effort to weaken Klausmeier.,” Lublin wrote. “Davidson presents no real threat to Klausmeier, but Miele would sure love if he softened her up a bit and forced her to expend resources in the primary.”

When asked about the assertion, Davidson called the implication “disgusting.”

“I’m really taken aback by the level of dirty politics that my opponent is undertaking,” Davidson told the East County Times in a phone interview, flummoxed by the implication. “It’s disgusting what they’re doing and they’re trying to make me look illegitimate.”

Miele shared that frustration, stating that “any insinuation that I am beholden to anyone would be a blatant mischaracterization.” He also added that while he accepted money from Davidson, he voted against many of the measures Davidson advocated for, both this year and in 2017.

Davidson said he considered running in other districts before settling on a run for Klausmeier’s seat, but said a chance at the District 8 seat was appealing because it was not a crowded race and it offered the best opportunity to bring about progressive change.

In a conversation with Davidson, he made it clear that he strongly dislikes Klausmeier, saying she “goes against every core tenet I believe in.” But allegations of a plot to undermine Klausmeier via a plant in the primary have no standing, he said.

“I’m disappointed that my opponent’s party is already spreading false information,” said Miele. “I want to run on the issues and I believe that the Annapolis machine is only doing this because she can’t run on her voting record.”

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Overdose death of local restaurant worker inspires new path of service for Perry Hall man

Overdose death of local restaurant worker inspires new path of service for Perry Hall man
John Torsch with a memorial to his brother, Daniel, who died of a heroin overdose. Torsch is working to make the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, and training on how to use it, more readily available to those who need it most. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Perry Hall resident John Torsch lost his brother, Dan, in December 2010 to the opioid overdose epidemic sweeping the nation.

His coping mechanisms to deal with that loss have run the gamut, from resorting to his own methods of self-medication to selling all of his belongings and traveling the world as a free spirit.

“My brother died Dec. 3, 2010,” he said. “And he came to me in a dream in March of 2011 and told me that if I continued on the path I was on, I was going to die.”

John, who had been working with his mother, Toni, to start a foundation in his brother’s name, took the message from his brother as a sign to get his act together. In addition to creating the Daniel Carl Torsch Foundation, the mother and son also started a local chapter of Grief Recovery After Substance Abuse (GRASP).

Always a traveler and an adventurer, John “liquidated his life” by selling all of his belongings. He took the sale proceeds and his savings, minus a “sizable chunk” donated to the foundation, which had just received its nonprofit certification, and hit the globe.

After experiencing adventures that ranged from treasure hunting to serving as personal chef to Richie Booker, Bob Marley’s brother - and living in Marley’s house for a couple of months - John ended the three-year-long wanderlust driven by grief and returned home.

Wearing a variety of hats, John works as a personal chef and spends many hours each week on foundation efforts, including working one-on-one with addicts in recovery. The organization exists to combat drug addiction through prevention, treatment and recovery.

A recent overdose death has carved out a new pathway of service for John to follow.

“Locally, we had a cook die of an overdose in the bathroom of a local restaurant,” he said. “And that got me to thinking about a whole set of people we need to reach in regard to the awareness and availability of Narcan.”

Toni and John Torsch have been instrumental in lobbying state elected leaders to create laws that make it easier to get Narcan - the trade name for naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose - into the hands of those who need it most.

Before laws changed, Narcan could only be prescribed to addicts, according to Toni, who said that made no sense, because that would mean the only person who knew how to use the antidote was unconscious.

Thanks to a statewide standing order signed by Howard Haft, a physician and deputy secretary of Public Health Services with the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, pharmacists can now prescribe Narcan “to any individual who may be at risk of opioid overdose or in a position to assist someone experiencing an opioid overdose,” according to the order.

A person-specific paper or electronic prescription is not required to get the drug, nor is any specific training or education, according to the standing order.

Aside from reversing overdose symptoms, Narcan has no other benefit or dangerous effects. If it is administered to someone not suffering from an overdose, it causes no damage, and it cannot be misused by addicts in search of a high because it does not have those properties, according to John.

Believing that drug use is prevalent among bar and restaurant workers, John is offering free training on the administration of Narcan, as well as donating doses of the life-saving drug to local businesses, including convenience stores and other retail outlets.

“The hospitality industry has such a problem with substance abuse,” John said. “I don’t want that segment of our community neglected so I am specifically reaching out to make this offer.”

Owners of local businesses interested in having the Torsches provide training and a Narcan kit can reach John through email at jtorsch84@gmail.com or by phone at 410-847-4247.

“I often wonder how it would have been if Narcan had been available for my bother,” John said. “He’d probably be here if we had had access to it. But maybe I can prevent someone else from losing a brother.”

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Displaced food bank hopes to put down roots at Tradepoint Atlantic

Displaced food bank hopes to put down roots at Tradepoint Atlantic
Tradepoint Atlantic’s Fitzell Room offers plenty of space to operate the food bank if approved, as well as artifacts on display from the days of steelmaking at the site. Photo courtesy of Tradepoint Atlantic.

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Marge Neal -

A food bank that has served Greater Dundalk residents, including displaced steelworkers, for several years has been homeless since the end of January.

But thanks to the generosity of Tradepoint Atlantic officials, the food assistance program that previously operated out of the Steelworkers Local 9477 hall at 550 Dundalk Avenue hopes to be back in operation sometime this month.

The former steelworkers union property was sold recently, and the new owner told food bank workers on Jan. 22 they “absolutely could not continue using the building,” according to food bank coordinator Melody Elste.

The food distribution is organized by Laughing Wolfe Resources, a non-profit mobile food bank that partners with the Maryland Food Bank to serve residents in need, according to Elste.

The program was started to provide food assistance to Dundalk-area residents as steelworkers were laid off at the Sparrows Point steel plant and other businesses suffered trickle-down damage as a result of the diminished steel workforce, Elste said.

Elste is concerned about the misconception that the food bank was a steelworker-created program designed to provide food only for displaced steel industry employees.

“You would never start a food bank just to serve a certain group of people,” she told the East County Times. “This program was started through Laughing Wolfe Resources to serve the entire community and we used the steelworkers’ hall because the union was still active at the time.”

Elste said she has a “great group of volunteers,” which includes many retired steelworkers, and they are all anxious to get back to work.

“My volunteers are ready,” she said.
“They call and ask me every week if we have a new place to meet yet.”

The food program is open to anyone in need, according to Elste.

With the program that distributes about 1,400 pounds of food monthly to 500 families - about 1,200 individuals - in danger of folding, Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s vice president of corporate affairs, reached out to program officials and offered a new home.

“We heard they were being displaced and it kinda bothered us a little bit,” Tomarchio told the Times. “So we offered space and are bringing the food bank back to its rightful home.”

Tradepoint Atlantic is redeveloping the 3,100-acre former steel mill property that was home to Bethlehem Steel and its successors for more than a century.

Tradepoint has offered the group the use of the Fitzell Room, a large room in the main office building already used for many community-oriented events, including semi-annual open houses. It also houses several displays of Bethlehem Steel artifacts that have been preserved.

The company will offer the room for the regular distributions, as well as a storage space if needed to store nonperishable food items from one distribution to the next, according to Tomarchio.

“We saw am immediate need and reached out,” Tomarchio said. “We wanted to take care of that need.”

The Tradepoint representative said he met with food bank organizers Feb. 22 to discuss their needs and what Tradepoint could offer to meet those needs.

“We can accommodate the food distributions and even offer storage space for any leftover food that would need to be stored until the next distribution,” Tomarchio said. “So if our offer meets their needs, they have a new home.”

After an 18-month hiatus, the food bank started operating again last October and distributed food once a month through November and twice a month in December and January before being forced out of business in February, according to Elste.

“If all goes right and the Maryland Food Bank approves the new place, we’ll be up and running and ready to go in March,” she said. “The plan is to give out food twice a month.”

A Maryland Food Bank official toured and inspected the proffered space on Monday, Feb. 26, according to Elste. Final details regarding the partnership with Tradepoint are being worked out and will be available soon.

Joanna Warner, director of communications for the MFB, wrote in an email to the Times on Tuesday that “it looks like we’re still working on this with our partner and don’t have any updates we’re prepared to share at this time.”

Area residents in need of food assistance can keep abreast of progress by following the Laughing Wolfe Resources Inc. Facebook page.

“We always keep our Facebook page updated with distribution dates,” Elste said.

If the move is approved, and she believes it will be, Elste said Laughing Wolfe will probably just schedule one food distribution this month.

“We’ll do a trial run to get back in the system of running it,” she said Tuesday. “With a new location, we’ll probably have a few kinks to work out and develop a new routine for our volunteers.”

It will probably take some time to get word out about the new location and Elste said she wants to be sure enough people show up to take advantage of the food delivery.

“We should be back to two times a month by April,” she said.

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County to expand rat eradication program into five more east-side neighborhoods

County to expand rat eradication program into five more east-side neighborhoods
Bus loads of residents from Baltimore County's east-side neighborhoods

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County announced last Thursday, Feb. 22 that it plans to expand its rat eradication pilot program into 10 new neighborhoods, bringing the total around the county to 23.

Of those, 16 neighborhoods - including five new - are on the east side and will begin receiving intensive rat extermination treatments, an extra trash pickup each week and education outreach efforts to help cut down the rat population beginning in July.

First announced last spring, the program began last summer for an eight-week period in 13 neighborhoods, including Bear Creek, Berkshire, Charlesmont, Colgate, Eastfield/Stanbrook, Eastwood and West Inverness in Dundalk; Middlesex in Essex; Hawthorne in Middle River; and Holland Hills in Rosedale.

At the end of that period the program was immediately renewed for an additional eight weeks “for greater effectiveness,” according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler, picking up Dundalk’s North Point Village in the process.

The county has spent $261,000 on extermination efforts and $853,000 on additional trash collections in the initial pilot areas, Kobler said. They anticipate spending $155,000 for extermination and $453,000 on extra trash collections for the new group, which on the east side includes Ballard Gardens in Middle River, Country Ridge and Foxcroft in Essex, and St. Helena and Yorkway/Cornwall in Dundalk.

The rat eradication effort also involves Code Enforcement and Public Works representatives working with community groups to increase education and to sponsor community clean-ups in order to reduce trash and debris that can provide a food source and harborage for rats, according to the county press release announcing the program’s expansion.

“People shouldn’t have to live among rats and the feedback we’re getting is overwhelmingly positive that our enhanced comprehensive approach is working well in these targeted areas,” County Executive Kevin Kamenetz stated in the release. “I commend the communities in the pilot program for their partnership in helping us get the word out to people about what they can do to deter rats and prevent them from returning.”

Each of the neighborhoods included in the program was chosen based on county code enforcement officers’ observations, coupled with analysis of rat-related complaints and data, Kobler explained. And while specific figures were not available by press time, she said they have measured the success of the program in than Code Enforcement has seen “markedly fewer” complaints related to rats and “significantly less” evidence of rat infestation in the targeted neighborhoods.

Cliff O’Connell, a leader in the multi-community push to get the county to do more about rats, told the East County Times he thinks the program has worked well so far.

“It’s a success, but there’s still a lot to do,” he said. “Compared to what we were doing before, it’s a success.”

O’Connell noted that people will still see some rats even after treatment, just hopefully with much less frequency.

“If you drive a typical alley [at night], instead of seeing 100 rats running around, you might see five or six here and there,” he said.

O’Connell said the second weekly trash pickup has had a particularly positive impact, working just as well as the exterminations themselves.

“What we still see a lot are people with poor trashcan habits,” he said. “So instead of that trash sitting there for seven days with no lid on it or lying on the ground, hopefully it’s only sitting there three days.”

County Council members Cathy Bevins (D-6) and Todd Crandell (R-7), who together represent all of the communities chosen on the east side, each praised the program’s effectiveness as well.

“Over the past year we have seen a real and tangible effect that the Rat Eradication Program has had on the original 13 communities,” Bevins said. “The fact that the program is being expanded speaks to its success and I look forward to more positive results.” said Bevins.

Crandell echoed those sentiments, stating, “The cost of this program was over $1 million, but it worked... The program was successful and significantly reduced the rodent population in our long-suffering neighborhoods.”

Doug Anderson, senior legislative aide to Crandell, added, “I can honestly say that we’ve put more resources into [addressing rat complaints] in three years than anything else.”

Crandell cautioned, though, that no amount of eradication efforts will work without citizen participation in treating trash and pet waste properly and encouraged residents to help educate their neighbors.

O’Connell, too, said community education is an important piece of the puzzle - one in which he felt the program is lacking.

“The education part of it is where it’s still weak in my opinion,” he said, adding that he would like to see more outreach via public announcements on television, radio or in newspapers.

O’Connell said neighborhoods with strong community organizations and leaders have done well to get the information out to their residents. But he is concerned that some of those chosen so far for the program do not have strong community networks.

“A community that doesn’t have a strong community leader that’s not really doing the job, or a community that has no community association at all, they’re really uneducated on what’s going on,” he said. “I know some of those communities [in the expansion] don’t have community associations.”

He said even though the exterminators hang informational flyers on door handles in the neighborhoods they treat, “it just doesn’t contain enough material to really educate these people.”

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Council members talk economic development with chamber of commerce

Council members talk economic development with chamber of commerce
Councilmembers Cathy Bevins (left), David Marks and Todd Crandell discussed economic development occurring in their districts. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Devin Crum -

East-side Baltimore County Council representatives focused heavily on economic development and redevelopment happening in their districts at a luncheon with the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday, Feb. 21, touting it as good for the county and its citizens.

The three councilmembers in attendance - Todd Crandell (R-7), Cathy Bevins (D-6) and David Marks (R-5) - were in agreement that, while they would all be discussing development, they could still all talk about different things because there is so much going on.

Crandell: Essex primed for reinvestment
Although Crandell represents both Dundalk and Essex, he focused more on Essex for the purposes of the luncheon because of his audience, which chiefly focuses on Essex, Middle River and White Marsh.

In particular, he praised the work of the group known as the Eastern Baltimore County Task Force, a sub-committee of the chamber which has taken on the task of sprucing up Essex to make it a more desirable place to live and work.

Although past efforts to revitalize Essex’s business core have failed to bear fruit, Crandell sees more promise in this one.

“This isn’t the same elephant,” he said of the revitalization effort. “There were efforts made in the past to revitalize the business corridor of Eastern Avenue and Eastern Boulevard [in Essex]. And for whatever reason - timing, lack of resources, whatever - it didn’t quite work out.”

Crandell praised the task force as well for starting small and working to improve the image of Essex through aesthetics first and “at least make it look investable.”

The councilman noted that, two weeks ago, Governor Larry Hogan held a cabinet meeting with state department heads in Baltimore County. Following that meeting, task force members gave key cabinet members, including Secretary of Housing and Community Development Ken Holt, a tour of the area and the issues it is facing.

Crandell said Holt and other state officials expressed support during that tour for at least a portion of Essex to be designated as a “Sustainable Community.”

“That Sustainable Community designation will enable this task force to go after certain grants for things like streetscapes, beautification efforts or Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative grants,” he said.

He affirmed that the application for that designation is underway with the cooperation of the county’s
Department of Planning, and they are hoping to meet an April 6 deadline for filing it.

Echoing the sentiments of task force member and longtime Essex business owner Sam Weaver, Crandell noted that Essex is right in the middle of the large-scale economic development and redevelopment occurring along Route 43 in Middle River and at Tradepoint Atlantic on Sparrows Point.

“So the timing is right to attract new investment to our business corridor on Eastern Avenue,” he said. “It just makes sense.”

Adding to that, Crandell mentioned that the night prior to the luncheon, he had introduced the planned unit development (PUD) resoultion to allow the county’s review of the proposed housing development at the Sparrows Point Country Club in Dundalk.

The plan proposes to build about 300 homes in a mixture of townhouses, waterfront villas and single-family homes ranging from about $250,000 - $600,000.

The project has been talked about for a long time, Crandell said. “And we’re probably two years, at least, away from putting shovels in the ground, but I view this as the residential component to what Tradepoint is doing.”

He said the development would improve the Seventh District’s housing stock, as well as help support Tradepoint Atlantic’s planned retail complex.

Bevins marketing Middle River
Councilwoman Bevins said there has been a lot of change the last few years in the Sixth District. But not everyone likes change, so she has worked hard to strike a good balance with development.

In particular, she said she has been supportive of both big and small business during her two terms on the County Council.

“You have to have strong businesses or your communities fail,” she said.

However, Bevins emphasized the importance of smart growth, preserving smaller, older communities and making sure infrastructure is maintained and updated to accommodate new communities.

The councilwoman also said the council has put a lot of effort into supporting economic development grants for businesses in the county, not just for the big businesses like Amazon or Under Armour, but also for smaller businesses such as a tea shop within the Avenue at White Marsh.

“They probably wouldn’t be there without the grants,” Bevins said of the tea business.

She praised the Avenue at White Marsh as well for investing in and reinventing itself to bring in new customers and keep previous customers coming back.

Regarding Greenleigh at Crossroads, Bevins said 2017 was a great year for the massive mixed-use development on Route 43 in Middle River, but 2018 will be even better.

In particular, she pointed to the recent announcement that Stanley Black and Decker has decided to lease a new building there, bringing in 200 existing jobs and planning to create 400 new ones.

Bevins said the people working those jobs - and the thousands of other high-paying jobs in the corridor - will patronize restaurants and other businesses already in the area and help to support the local economy.

She said while they are trying to use Route 43 to market Middle River, build new communities there and bring in new business, they are taking care to plan it out the right way and get input from all the relevant stakeholders.

“We’re making sure that what happened in Perry Hall, and how all that development just all of a sudden was so overwhelming and we haven’t been able to catch up with our schools and our infrastructure, we don’t want that to happen in Middle River,” she said.

Marks on the ‘challenge’ of redevelopment
Councilman Marks began by saying that Baltimore County is a great, but “challenging” county to represent.

Speaking on development, particularly in places within the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL), Marks said they must be creative.

Baltimore County created the URDL in the mid-1960s as a way to separate the more densely developed areas from the green, rural ones. Marks held this as good environmental as well as economic policy, serving to strengthen the county’s agricultural base.

But because the URDL restricts development outside it, he said, the county is running out of land to develop inside it. As a result, there is pressure to find ways to redevelop and revitalize older communities and business centers within the URDL.

Marks pointed to the Joppa Road corridor - the spine of the Fifth District - as an example of an area that needs to be redeveloped to expand the county’s tax base and to improve the neighborhoods along it.

Governmentally, Baltimore County is a very conservative county, he said, and people expect it to be governed with efficiency. He added that he thinks people are proud of the fact that the county’s tax rate has not been raised in nearly three decades.

“But because we are running out of land to develop, it requires us to be very creative and imaginative as we go forward into the future,” he said.

School overcrowding is an issue in all three east-side council districts, and indeed throughout the county.

Marks said he is especially cognizant of school overcrowding. As a result, he has supported development projects such as the Brightview Perry Hall senior living facility and certain types of development in the Honeygo area to attract older residents rather that younger ones with children that could further burden area schools.

He noted, of course, the two new elementary schools and the new middle school all slated to open within the next three years to serve his constituents as well as Bevins’.

“These are important to business and property owners because so many people look to the schools when they move into an area,” Marks said. “And it represents a lot of investment during the time when we haven’t raised the tax rate.”

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BCPS hears from more angry stakeholders at SEAC meeting

BCPS hears from more angry stakeholders at SEAC meeting
An embattled George Roberts (right) also faced angry parents in 2011 while principal of Perry Hall High School for his decision to end the PHHS boys' soccer team's post season prematurely as penalty for a controversial post-game celebration. File photo.

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Dozens of Baltimore County Public School stakeholders - students, parents and teachers - showed up at Oliver Beach Elementary School in Middle River on Monday, Feb. 26, to express their displeasure with the school system’s handling of discipline issues.

Many showed up angry and left feeling the same way.

“This is B.S.,” said Valerie McDonough, wife of Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7), during a part of a presentation on the school system’s use of restorative practices.

The meeting with stakeholders at Oliver Beach was part of the school system’s outreach on school safety, discipline and restorative measures that have been taking place at education advisory council meetings in all four zones of the county over the month of February, including a Northeast Area Education Advisory Council (NEAC) meeting at Joppa View Elementary School that took place on Feb. 12.

At that NEAC meeting, Community Superintendent George Roberts and other BCPS administrators were also confronted with a harsh crowd, as stakeholders alleged that incidents of violence and bullying were being swept under the rug while pushing back on restorative practice measures.
Those same viewpoints were shared at Monday night’s meeting in Middle River.

“We just had this meeting two weeks ago five miles up the road at Joppa View Elementary, and we’re hearing a lot of the same issues,” said Roberts.

Those issues include lack of communication with parents, sustained bullying and the perception that lax disciplinary measures see troublesome students return to classrooms only to continue disruptive behavior.

Things took an ugly turn when Roberts tried getting stakeholders to jot their concerns and potential solutions on sheets of paper - something BCPS has done at each of the meetings in order to catalogue feedback.

When questioned about what could be done now to help curb disciplinary issues, Roberts tried to segue into a segment where parents jot down their concerns and proposed solutions on a sheet of paper so that BCPS can catalogue and cross-reference the concerns of the SEAC with the other councils around the county.

“We want to hear from you, in regard to where are the problems,” said Roberts, listing off issues that had been raised earlier in the meeting.

“You already know that’s going on,” replied one member of the crowd, slamming his fists. “Tell us what you’re doing about it.”

Roberts maintained that they had outlined some of what they are doing, referencing restorative measures such as circling up and discussing the problem between students, that are supposed to help re-acclimate a child back into the classroom after being removed for a disciplinary reason.

At that point, multiple parents fed up with the responses from BCPS officials walked out, saying they were “fed up with the lip service.”

The East County Times reached out to Roberts for comment on Tuesday, but was told he was in meetings all afternoon.

While BCPS officials struggle to get ahold of the disciplinary issues that plague the system, legislators in Annapolis have pressed for better oversight.

Two weeks ago Delegate Kathy Szeliga pressed Interim Superintendent Verletta White on an alleged firearm incident at Golden Ring Middle School.

Last Friday, at the weekly Baltimore County House Delegation meeting in Annapolis, Delegate Bob Long re-introduced a bill he proposed last year which would see active assailant event training take place at schools in the county.

The bill would require the school system to comply with guidelines established by the Department of Homeland Security or be consistent with those measures, with records for accountability being sent to the superintendent’s office and the board of education.

“It’s a shame we have to be having this discussion, but it’s the reality now,” said Long, citing the recent school shooting in Florida and multiple incidents that have taken place in county schools involving students and replica guns.

When Delegate Susan Aumann (R-42B) raised concerns about the delegation overstepping their boundaries in what should be a local issue, Szeliga pointedly responded that the board of education was “nonresponsive.”

The struggle between legislators to determine their role in oversight of what is a county issue will continue next week when Delegate Robin Grammer’s bill requiring the Office of Legislative Audits to conduct a special comprehensive audit of BCPS goes before the House Appropriations committee on March 8. The bill, HB0428, would see an audit of the school system’s contracts and procurement process, with a focus on technology contracts.

The Sixth District Delegation is also planning to host a town hall on discipline issues in school later this month, though a date and time have yet to be determined.

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Dundalk’s Washington joins Seventh District school board race

Dundalk’s Washington joins Seventh District school board race

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The race is on for the Seventh Councilmanic District’s Board of Education seat with the recent entry of two additional candidates.

Dundalk resident Eric Washington, a longtime Community College of Baltimore County employee, filed Friday morning, Feb. 23, to make it a two-person race, then was joined that afternoon by Essex resident Rod McMillion, the athletic director at Chesapeake High School. The two men join Dundalk resident Will Feuer, who filed Jan. 5, in the race. By publication time, the race could be even more crowded since candidates had until 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, to file.

Washington, who is a student conduct officer at CCBC, considers the new elected school board seat an opportunity that suits his experience and passion.

“For me, it’s a natural fit,” he said. “Most of my professional life has been spent in the academic world and both of my sons are products of Baltimore County Public Schools.”

One son is an Eastern Technical High School graduate now enrolled at Bowie State University and the other is a junior at Eastern Tech.

“I know the school system from top to bottom,” he said.

Professionally, Washington was a high school recruiter for CCBC before taking his current position, and as a volunteer has been involved in parent-teacher associations since his children started school. He has also worked as a substitute teacher within the system.

Additionally, Washington serves on the Board of Directors at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and sits on its quality assurance committee.

In his current capacity at CCBC, he administers the college’s Code of Conduct and addresses student cheating, discipline problems and other violations of academic ethics.

The 15-year CCBC employee worked on the Dundalk campus as a recruiter and relocated to the Essex campus when he assumed his current position.

The New York native received his bachelor’s degree in communications from that state’s Hunter College. He went on to earn a master’s degree in management from what was then called the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

Between his own pursuit of education and his 20 years of experience in one capacity or another in support of BCPS, Washington believes he is in a perfect position to provide a “bigger voice for the people of the community.”

With a nod to a growing national problem, Washington said student safety is a top concern of his.

“I’ll admit that I don’t know what their policies are, and I don’t know what kind of drills are being done, but I do know there are so many students who are afraid to go to school,” he said. “And that just shouldn’t be the case.”

Washington said he is against arming teachers and cited an example of an armed teacher in Utah who, while using a restroom, accidentally discharged the weapon.

“There’s just too much that can go wrong if teachers are carrying weapons,” Washington said. “That is not the solution.”

The nationally-implemented Common Core curriculum is still a concern to Washington, who believes the academic program was “forced down their throats with no communication.”

Washington believes the proposal could have been handled differently and that educators should have had more of a say in the decision.

The school board candidate is also concerned about the allocation and administration of system funding and wants to make sure resources are going where they need to go.

“This is a nonpartisan situation,” Washington said. “This is not about Democrats, not about Republicans; this is about educating our children to be successful and working together toward that goal.”

Washington, who ran for the House of Delegates in the Sixth Legislative District in 2014 but failed to make it out of the primary election, believes he has name recognition in the councilmanic district and will run a grassroots campaign to spread his message.

Earlier in the filing period, Washington filed to run for a seat on the Democratic State Central Committee representing the Sixth Legislative District but withdrew from that race the day he filed his school board candidacy.

“I just didn’t want to sit on the sidelines any longer,” Washington said of the opportunity to work on the school board. “I care about my community and see this as opportunity to serve that community with skills and experience that fit the need.”

With three candidates running for the district’s school board seat, their names will appear on the  ballot of the primary election set for June 26.

The top two candidates will advance to the general election in November.

Any district with two for fewer candidates will automatically advance to the general election.

Washington said he is ready for the challenge and excited to share his message with voters.

“This is a position that literally affects students’ lives and I believe that, with my knowledge of and experience with the school system, I have the skills and the desire to be a voice for our community.”

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At town hall, Delegate Miele unveils half a dozen bills aimed at ensuring school safety

At town hall, Delegate Miele unveils half a dozen bills aimed at ensuring school safety
Delegate Christian Miele (standing) met with constituents and BCPS stakeholders for about three hours on Feb. 15 to discuss concerns about disciplinary issues in county schools. The first-term delegate also unveiled a legislative package aimed at curbing these issues. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 2/21/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Concerned parents, teachers and students showed up en masse to take part in Delegate Christian Miele’s town hall on school safety last Thursday, Feb. 15, at Perry Hall High School, just over a month after a Perry Hall student was arrested for brandishing an air-soft rifle in the school’s parking lot.

While the town hall was called in light of the Perry Hall incident and alleged ongoing disciplinary issues in Baltimore County Public Schools, it fell in the shadow of two other major incidents. The day before the town hall, 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Florida. The day of the town hall, Loch Raven High School was on lockdown after a student brought what turned out to be a pellet gun into the school.

“I’m mad, I’m scared and I’m concerned,” said Darlene Graves, parent of a PHHS student. “I’m concerned because these kids are growing up thinking this is normal.”

At the town hall, Miele unveiled a half-dozen bills aimed at helping curb school violence and disciplinary issues. The proposed legislation looks at a slew of issues from transportation safety and drug awareness to creating an anti-bullying task force and new punitive measures - including revoking a person’s driver’s license for upwards of three years - for bringing a weapon to school.

Miele thanked the crowd of over 100 for attending, stressing that change cannot be made “unilaterally” by politicians. From there he dove into HB1600, which deals with the anti-bullying task force.

“What this bill is designed to do is create a task force comprised of all the relevant stakeholders in our education community,” Miele said.

The bill would require a bipartisan committee to be established and comprised of four members of the General Assembly, multiple BCPS administrators, board of education representatives, principals, teachers and PTA members.

The bill, which has unanimous support in the Baltimore County House Delegation, would charge the task force with studying current disciplinary actions for students found responsible for violations of the Baltimore County Public Schools’ bullying policy, and studying the range of disciplinary sanctions for those violations.

“What we’re aiming at is uniformity,” said Miele. “A lot of parents feel that some sanctions are a little bit too lenient, some are a little more severe. What we’re really driving at is making sure that uniform disciplinary policy is applied across Baltimore County.”

The bill would also charge the task force with determings whether creating a county-wide anti-bulying campaign is necessary.

“This is sort of civility training, golden-rule type training,” said Miele. “We all want a good education for our kids, but after what happened in Florida, after a gun was brought to this campus, after a gun was brought to Loch Raven... safety is the most important thing. Kids can’t focus on learning if they’re too worried about whether or not they’re physically safe, or whether or not they’re going to be emotionally abused by their classmates.”

The task force will also look at the possibility of expanding e-learning to more egregious and repeat offenders. Current policy does not allow for a student to be expelled outright. Instead, the child is either placed in an alternative school for up to the remainder of the year or they are placed in home and hospital learning. But, according to Miele, some offenders have already been given too many chances.

“We don’t want these kids to get kicked out of the system and ruin their life; that’s not our goal,” he said. “But if they demonstrate over a period of time that they’re just not equipped to behave in a way that’s conducive to everybody else’s learning... then they probably don’t belong in a general student population and we need to explore what that looks like - whether or not we’re going to expand our e-learning abilities so they can get their degree online.”

While Miele would like the anti-bullying task force to make disciplinary recommendations, the first-term delegate already has one punitive measure in mind - revoking an offender’s driver’s license.

The proposed legislation, HB 1474, would require the Motor Vehicle Administration to revoke a person’s driver’s license or privilege for one to three years if the person is convicted of carrying or possessing a firearm on school property under certain circumstances. While bringing a firearm or replica onto school grounds is already illegal, Miele thinks there needs to be more of a disincentive.

“We have to be innovative and creative in how we are going to think about solutions, and how we’re going to think about deterrents to disincentivize kids from bringing firearms to school,” he said.

While Miele and other lawmakers look to come up with new solutions, some parents are calling for more drastic measures.

“We had a shooting at this school, but what have we done to make this not happen here again?” Graves asked. “Maybe we need metal detectors. D.C. has metal detectors in their schools.”

While disciplinary issues continue to plague BCPS, many - including parents, board of education members, teachers and legislators - have called for an examination of students being sent to county schools while residing in the city. Before addressing his transportation safety issues, Miele threw cold water on the notion that the ills of BCPS should be put on the shoulders of purported city students illegally attending county schools.

Addressing comments on a social media post regarding the recent Perry Hall gun incident, Miele said that accusations that offenders were from outside the Perry Hall area were not factual, noting that every student involved in the incident except one lives in the Perry Hall area.

“Our community values are such that every Baltimore County resident and parent has the same dreams for their kids,” he said in an impassioned aside.

On March 2, the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee will hold a second hearing on the driver’s license revocation bill at 1 p.m. On March 9, Miele has a triple-header in front of the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee will hold hearings on the anti-bullying task force bill, a new drug awareness campaign bill and a bill aimed at punishing the falsification of residency records for the purpose of attending county schools with a fine.

Other area legislators have bills pertaining to BCPS slated for upcoming hearings. Delegate Robin Grammer (R-7) has a hearing scheduled on March 8 in front of the House Appropriations Committee for his bill seeking to enact a legislative audit of BCPS. Delegate Bob Long (R-6) also has legislation being considered. Long has been pushing his bill, requiring active assailant training and drills at schools, since 2016. That hearing will also be held on March 2.

“This is a good bill that ensures we continue to work together, and this provides accountability to the School Board,” said Long. “We must do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our schools and to provide a safe learning environment.”

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With one bus stop problem solved, Dundalk activist hopes to tackle others

With one bus stop problem solved, Dundalk activist hopes to tackle others
The area where the benches and trash cans were placed has remained mostly clean thanks to the efforts of Angel Ball and bus riders. Photo courtesy of Angel Ball.

(Updated 2/21/18)

- By Marge Neal -

To say Angel Ball is frustrated is an understatement.

The Dunmanway Apartments property manager, known in the Dundalk community for tackling problems and getting things done, is doing her part to eliminate what many have long considered to be neighborhood eyesores: trashy, unkempt public bus stops.

And while she has a solution that many are willing to pitch in for, and she has the Maryland Transit Administration’s blessing and support, she believes she is being ignored by perhaps the most important partner in the project - Baltimore County.

Ball’s involvement in the issue began with the county’s removal of two benches and a trash can at the bus stop at the corner of Dunmanway and Dunran Road, in front of the apartment complex. Ball had the benches built and installed and had a staff member empty the trash can three times a week.

Without any prior communication to Ball, a county Bureau of Highways crew picked up the benches and trash can on Jan. 29. With a little bit of detective work, Ball tracked down the benches and was told they would be returned that afternoon. When that did not happen, she took her case to social media, wondering why the county would take away something designed to keep the neighborhood clean and bus rider-friendly.

County officials clammed up, but MTA’s Janeen Kuser reached out to Ball and told her about the transit system’s Adopt a Stop program, which encourages individuals, businesses, schools and other organizations to adopt a local bus stop. The program is similar to the state’s Adopt a Highway program, according to Kuser.

The two women met on Feb. 8 to discuss the bus stop adoption program, through which MTA provides trash bags, gloves, cleaning tools and trash grabbers to volunteer crews that take responsibility for a particular stop.

Kuser told the East County Times she was excited about working with Ball and the potential for bus stop adoptions throughout Dundalk.

“What Angel is doing is amazing and I will do whatever I can to help her,” she said. “But we don’t own the land where bus stops are located - the local jurisdiction does - so we will need the county’s approval to move forward.”

The program has few rules, according to Kuser.

“We ask that they perform bi-weekly cleanups and let us know of any problems we need to take care of,” she said. “Like if a mattress or something big were to be dumped at a stop, we would pick that up, the volunteers wouldn’t be responsible for that. And we discourage picking up drug paraphernalia.”

Ball said she is frustrated that, while she is working with state officials and fielding calls and messages from residents ready to volunteer for the program, Baltimore County officials have seemingly turned a deaf ear, first to her specific problem and then to her request for a meeting to discuss the program on a bigger scale.

While Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell did not personally communicate with Ball, he posted this comment to Facebook on Jan. 30 after she publicly complained about her benches being removed: “After receiving the initial complaint yesterday about the trash can and benches being removed at Dunmanway and Dunran, I am pleased to report that a resolution to the issue is coming together and I want to thank all those involved.”

When that comment was posted, Ball had not yet been informed of any pending resolution and didn’t have any idea who “all those involved” were, but she knew she was not among them.

“How can he be working on a resolution to my problem without involving me?” she asked. “This is just ridiculous.”

Ball has since been informed that the Dunmanway stop will receive a county-approved bench and trash can that her staff will install and maintain, though she has not been given a date when that will happen.

She is happy her stop will be restored, but wants the county to see the “big picture” solution the MTA partnership offers.

“My bus stop is not the only problem here - once they opened this can of worms - and this partnership was handed to me through the MTA,” Ball wrote in a message to the Times. “It is a much larger picture than just the bus stop on Dunmanway.”

Kuser said that, other than complaints about buses missing a stop or being late, littered bus stops generate the most complaints made through MTA.

“We know our bus stops can be a downfall, we know they can be a problem,” she said. “That’s why the adoption program was started - to work with community residents to clean up these problem spots.”

But MTA’s hands are tied because they do not own the land, she said. MTA does not install benches or trash cans - where they exist, local jurisdictions have undertaken the effort.

After meeting with Kuser about the adoption program, Ball sent an email on Feb. 13 to Crandell and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, explaining the state’s adoption program and requesting a meeting with them to discuss how the county could embrace the concept.

Crandell has not formally responded to the email, according to Ball, but he did send a text message to her private cell phone the evening that she sent the email which stated, “I’ve been in touch with Bryan Sheppard consistently and spoke with him today after seeing your email. I agree that you have been more than patient. He will be in touch with you shortly - a solution is coming.”

Ball and Kuser are both mystified at the lack of communication and the perception that the county is not willing to support a program that will beautify many local areas while also putting the responsibility for cleanup in the hands of volunteers. That volunteer effort would theoretically free up county workers to do other work, both believe.

“Angel’s effort here is making the county and the councilman look good and I don’t understand the lack of response to the request for a meeting,” Kuser said.

Ball said she has verbal commitments from at least five parties willing to adopt a bus stop but needs the county’s stamp of approval to move forward.

She understands there might be budget limitations to having benches installed, as Sheppard - an assistant to Kamenetz - pointed out, but believes tackling the problem has to start somewhere.

“I just want an agreement with the county to support us and then I am willing to do the work to get this rolling,” Ball said. “This could be a good partnership that benefits the county, neighborhoods and MTA - it should be a no-brainer.

“And I’ve got plenty of good samaritans lined up and ready to go.”

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‘Rec-storation’ happening in two east-side state parks

‘Rec-storation’ happening in two east-side state parks
Due to the design of the blocks, all of the spaces within the wall can be seeded with plants to grow in and actually make it stronger. And a new path directs visitors around the wall. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/21/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Restoration of water quality in recreational spaces is happening on Baltimore County’s east side in the form of two stormwater management (SWM) projects in area state parks.

As part of Governor Larry Hogan’s regional cabinet meeting in Baltimore County on Feb. 12, Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton visited one of the projects, a bioretention and living wall facility, located in the Hammerman Beach area of Gunpowder State Park in Middle River.

Belton coined the term "rec-storation" to describe the project as having benefits for both recreation and restoration.

The facility consists of a SmartSlope living wall and a bioretention pond populated with native plants to capture and treat stormwater runoff from the adjacent parking lot before it makes its way to the tidal Gunpowder River and the Chesapeake Bay. It was designed and planned using $81,500 in seed money from the Chespeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund’s Innovative Technology Fund, and constructed, beginning in October 2017, with roughly $106,000 from the CACB fund itself.

SmartSlope is a vegetated retaining wall system that utilizes open-celled precast concrete modules and polymeric reinforcement strap, according to a fact sheet for the project. It was constructed by Furbish which produces the concrete blocks that make up the wall.

The tiered, open-celled retaining wall creates habitat for native plants not only on top of but growing within the wall itself.

Michael Furbish said the idea is to create the structure, but to also allow plants to grow through it to reduce the impervious surface. This also helps mitigate the urban heat island effect associated with paved and concrete surfaces in summer.

“All these pockets will be filled with plants,” Furbish said. “And when things go right you won’t see any concrete at all.”

Bryan Seipp, watershed manager with the Center for Watershed Protection, said planting on the wall is about 85 percent complete, and when the weather becomes more agreeable in the next month or so, they will finish the job.

The project is expected to be fully complete by this spring.

Ranger Dean Hughes, assistant manager for Gunpowder Falls, North Point and Hart-Miller Island state parks, said prior to the project the entire area was a steeply declining slope from the parking area down to the public beach.

“What we had was a lot of clay and densely compacted soils. And the visitors had made their preferences known for where they wanted to go,” he said, referencing the path worn into the slope where beachgoers traversed from the building or parking lot to the beach instead of using the path built for that purpose.

Hughes said during storm events the water would run off the parking lot down the slope and erode the beach below, as well as the slope itself due to the worn path.

“Big channels would get cut right through [the sand] into the water,” he said. He was happy to see the project completed to slow down the runoff water, reduce the beach erosion and create a positive, aesthetically pleasing addition to the park.

The second project, currently under construction at North Point State Park in Edgemere, involves replacing the main gravel parking lot with pervious pavers that allow storm water to permeate through rather than run off, according to Seipp.

That lot, Seipp said, is close to the water and has been a “constant” problem for the park due to its condition and their inability to properly manage the parking there because of the lack of striping or lane markers on the lot.

“So it takes a lot of effort for them to sort of manage people parking during busy times,” he said.

The new pavers, while providing a more manageable parking structure, will allow storm water to seep into the lot itself and into the ground or make its way slowly to an existing SWM facility that has reverted into a wetland, rather than running off into the bay.

“So where people park is essentially pavers with big gaps in them and large gravel beds underneath that allow water to be stored and infiltrate into the ground,” Seipp said.

The project is mandated to be completed by Memorial Day to avoid the peak park visitation season. And while Seipp was confident they will meet that deadline, he was concerned that the cold, rainy weather has already slowed their progress.

“I think as the weather is projected to be this week, we’re really struggling,” he said Tuesday, Feb 20. “We’re still working, but it slows us down a bit.”

Still, he anticipates finishing the project by the end of March or in mid-April.

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Bevins plans continued focus on constituent service, bettering district if reelected

Bevins plans continued focus on constituent service, bettering district if reelected
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins as she filed her paperwork for reelection at the county's Board of Elections office in Catonsville. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/21/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Two-term Sixth District County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Democrat, filed for reelection to her post last Thursday, Feb. 15. And if reelected, she plans to continue doing much of what she believes has gotten her elected twice already.

Bevins frequently touts her focus on and accomplishments with regard to constituent service since that is how she got her start in local government and a large part of what she has done while in office.

“My first job in government was serving as the constituent services coordinator for former County Executive Jim Smith where I was able to personally assist 5,000 east-side residents,” she said in a statement announcing her reelection campaign. “As a councilwoman, constituent services remains a top priority and my office has successfully handled 5,500 constituent issues since 2010.”

On the legislative side, Bevins told the East County Times she has also sponsored and helped pass several pieces of legislation to improve the quality of life in the district, which includes Middle River, White Marsh, Rosedale, Parkville, Overlea, parts of Perry Hall and some more western communities.

One bill in particular that stuck out in her mind was the one that instituted background checks for recreation council volunteers, which passed in 2014.

“How can we have tens of thousands of volunteers in Baltimore County and not know who they are or where they’ve been,” Bevins remembered thinking at the time. “Even the lunch ladies in schools have to get background checks.”

Some may not have thought it would be a difficult bill to pass, but it was for her, she said, because County Executive Kevin Kamenetz opposed the measure on the grounds that it would be an added financial burden for the county.

“But I stood my ground,” she said, “and I think it was the toughest thing I’ve ever done since I’ve been in office.”

The councilwoman added that she is happy to support other councilmembers’ bills if they make sense to her.

“I support legislation that I think is a good fit for my district,” she said, no matter the sponsor’s party affiliation.

Bevins said she has been able to successfully attract businesses and high-paying jobs to her district, mostly in the area of the Route 43 extension in Middle River.

Route 43 was built for jobs, she said, particularly those projected through the federal government’s military Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program. But when that fell through, the county had to figure out another way to attract them. So the County Council created an overlay district for the area around the highway which allowed residential uses and paved the way for the massive Greenleigh at Crossroads development now under construction.

Naysayers said, according to Bevins, that it would lead to the area being developed entirely for residential and not bringing the desired jobs.

“But I knew that wasn’t true because I knew how it worked at Maple Lawn,” she said, referring to the Howard County project after which Greenleigh was modeled.

There are now some 6,000 jobs located along the Route 43 extension in Middle River, with major employers including coffee and liquor distributors, a candy manufacturer and Stanley Black and Decker which recently announced its relocation to the area.

Bevins has faced criticism in recent years for the amount of development happening in the Sixth District since she took office, as well as the amount of campaign donations she has received from developers, with some saying she is beholden to them to grant approval for their projects.

But the councilwoman called that “absolute nonsense.”

“I wish that people knew how many times I’ve said no” to developers, she said.

Bevins pointed out that she declined in 2012 to rezone several properties along Ebenezer Road in Middle River to allow for 1,200 new homes to be built.

In 2016, she similarly denied a development plan for 80 new townhomes off Allender Road in White Marsh, instead obtaining Project Open Space (POS) funds to purchase and preserve the land for public use as part of a larger 100-acre tract. Bevins pointed out that Michael Paul Smith, son of Jim Smith, was the development attorney for that project.

“The community didn’t want it and I said no,” she said. “So now there’s 100 acres of contiguous land in front of the Bowerman-Loreley Beach community that can never be developed.”

While she said she could not stop development of what is known as the Tito property along Bird River Road in Middle River, admitting that the owner of that property has donated to her campaigns, she did turn down what could have been a much more dense project there. She also obtained POS funds for a nearby 12-acre property at Wampler Road which already had an approved  development plan and the needed zoning.

Regarding the donors to her campaigns, Bevins advised critics to look at the campaign finance reports of her colleagues on the County Council as well, noting that they have many of the same donors, including developers.

“People who are doing business in Baltimore County, whether they are real estate, big business or small business, they want good representation on every level of government, [especially at the local level]. They want a person who is making good decisions,” she said, adding that they will support them and want to keep them in office.

As for her plans for the future, Bevins said she will push for a new Police Athletic League (PAL) center for Middle River, as well as a new technical high school for the area.

Programs at the school, she told the Times, could include an automotive program focusing on boats, as well as marine biology and even the science of farming since those are disciplines highly related to the area.

“With 200 miles of waterfront between Dundalk and Middle River, I think that would be something that could really serve a huge population,” she said.

Although there have been rumors that Bevins could see a primary challenger in this election, none had filed as of press time. However, the councilwoman has said in the past that as an incumbent she believes she should not have a primary challenger.

“I just feel like I’m doing a good job,” she said. “I’m a Democrat in a purple district that has survived two elections.”

She added that, at the end of the day, regardless of her party affiliation, she’s just Cathy Bevins who works with communities to address their needs. And the 5,500 constituents’ issues resolved is “proof that we do the work,” she said.

Bevins said she does not currently have a time in mind when, should she continue to be elected, she would decide to retire or move on. But she is only nearing the end of her second term and “things take time,” she noted.

“I’m running in 2018, I’m enjoying this job, my staff wants to continue to do the work and I don’t know what I’ll do four years after that,” she said. “At the end of the day, people just want someone they can count on, and I think people know they can count on Cathy.”

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Governor Hogan brings his cabinet to Baltimore County

Governor Hogan brings his cabinet to Baltimore County
Samuel E. Moskowitz (right), president of Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center, gives Hogan a rundown of the Franklin Square facilities. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Governor Larry Hogan and his cabinet split from Annapolis for much of the day on Monday, Feb. 8, to bring the state government to Baltimore County.

Hogan opted to hold a “regional cabinet meeting” at CCBC Essex before he and his top aides toured various parts of the county, including trips to Franklin Square Hospital, the new Dulaney High School and more.

The day began early at Boulevard Diner in Dundalk, with the popular Republican governor visiting a key district that flipped from blue to red in the last election, helping Hogan gain a strong footing in Baltimore County.

“He’s a rock star in these parts,” said Delegate Ric Metzgar, who represents the area. “And it’s deserved. He’s done a lot of good for the people of this area. When was the last time you saw a governor bring his entire cabinet to the east side?”

Those sentiments were shared by most local officials throughout the day. County Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall), who worked for Governor Bob Ehrlich, remarked to The East County Times that he could not remember an administration doing this.

The day had the feel of a massive campaign event, with Hogan and his team touting the administration’s efforts over the last three years while deriding County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s administration for lagging on school air conditioning and construction, supporting the “road kill” bill and failing to pay for midge treatment on Back River.

Kamenetz is vying for the Democratic nomation to challenge Hogan in November.

After the cabinet meeting, Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford and George Owings, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, stopped by the Essex American Legion Post 148 to hear from local veterans and tout this administration’s work to better the lives of Maryland’s veterans.

“I’ve worked in this position across multiple administrations, and none have done more for our veteran’s than the Hogan administration,” said Owings, who was first appointed to his position under Gov. Ehrlich in 2004.

That contention was backed by Brian Sann, commander of the Essex American Legion Post.

Sann, who has been a member of the Essex American Legion for 26 years and commander for three, told the East County Times that it was “pretty special” having a man of Rutherford’s stature visit. Sann also could not recall ever having a visitor with such a high profile.

With regard to Owings’ claim that Hogan’s administration has been more dedicated than others in the past, Sann agreed. He highlighted Hogan pushing to make state parks free for veterans, as well as discounts for fishing and hunting licenses.

“I think that they have done a whole lot,” Sann said. “There are some initiatives that have been put forward that have not been approved yet, and a big one is tax relief on military veterans’ retirements.”

Currently, only the first $10,000 per year is tax free for a veterans’ pension. For the last few years, Hogan has pushed to make 100 percent of military pensions tax free, but legislation has not made its way through the General Assembly.

Early in the afternoon, Hogan was joined by a few of his cabinet members on a tour of Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center, where they visited the neonatal care and oncology centers.

In the neonatal care center, Hogan learned about neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when a baby is born after having been exposed to drugs in the womb, most often opioids. One of the newborns Hogan visited was born weighing just over a pound and suffering from withdrawal.

From Franklin Square, Hogan jumped around the county, visiting Dulaney High School and the Pikesville Armory.

This is the third time Hogan has held a regional cabinet meeting, with the administration making trips last year to Washington County and Carroll County. A fourth is in the works that will focus on Southern Maryland.

With the gubernatorial race slated for November and a host of important local elections with major implications for the General Assembly, Hogan’s deputy communications director, Amelia Chasse, acknowledged there are likely more visits in store for the east side.

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Public boat ramp, pier still a go at Shaw’s Discovery, developer says

Public boat ramp, pier still a go at Shaw’s Discovery, developer says
The boat ramp and three proposed piers are shown along the water line as part of the development.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The omission of a community boat ramp and fishing pier on a shoreline stabilization permit application filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is strictly an administrative problem and does not reflect a change of plans for the Shaw’s Discovery project in Edgemere, according to developer Mark Sapperstein.

“This is absolutely just a paperwork issue and not an issue of desire,” Sapperstein told the East County Times. “Once this permit is approved, I’ll amend the plan to the Corps to make sure the boat ramp and pier are included.”

Sapperstein is developing the Edgemere land known locally as Bauer’s Farm, creating a 143-home community to be known as Shaw’s Discovery. He is building the project using a planned unit development designation, or PUD, which allows a builder to work outside of current zoning in exchange for the community receiving a “benefit” from the project.

In this case, Sapperstein was given permission to build a higher density of housing than would have been allowed on the former agricultural land in part because of his promise to build a public boat ramp and fishing pier on the waterfront property. He has also stated that community residents will have full access to a series of walking trails planned for the residents of what will be a gated community.

Sapperstein said he has talked to Fran Taylor, president of the North Point Peninsula Council, regarding the application oversight and assured him there are no plans to back out of providing the community benefit.

Taylor said he is disappointed that “everything wasn’t written down” with regard to the public amenities promised to the community and hopes that the amended application gets approved.

While Taylor is concerned that an amendment might not be approved, Sapperstein said “there is absolutely no chance” of an amended plan not being approved.

“And I plan to take it to the community before I file it to make sure it includes everything,” the developer said.

The application Sapperstein filed is to get Corps of Engineers approval of a shoreline stabilization project that will restore nearly 2,800 linear feet of tidal shoreline. The proposed stone revetment will replace the existing failing bulkheads, according to the document.

It also spells out the process for mitigation required by the “permanent impact” of forested land that will be or has been cleared for roads and storm water management facilities. Sapperstein has proposed an area off of Back River Neck Road as the site for the reforestation required by law.

Taylor expressed concern that the mitigation will not occur in Edgemere, but the Back River site satisfies the requirement of being in the same watershed that suffered the impact.

Sapperstein said he is working on the amended plan now and will keep the community updated as the project progresses.

The Corps’ approval is needed to begin work on several remaining infrastructure needs, such as the creation of a deceleration lane on North Point Road and the construction of a pump station at the end of the newly constructed entrance road, according to Sapperstein.

NV Homes is the builder, and Sapperstein said he expects them to begin construction within 10 days of the Corps’ approval. NV will build six model townhomes to start and then build additional units as homes are sold.

“The builder can build a group of six houses about every 75 days,” Sapperstein said. “They’ll put the models up first to gain interest and then build as they get commitments. I think it’s going to be a hot market.”

Public comments regarding the Corps application are being taken through Feb. 16. Sapperstein expects to hear a decision about a week after that.

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Grammer introduces bill to force state to acquire Fort Howard property

Grammer introduces bill to force state to acquire Fort Howard property
The VA hospital building is slated for restoration, but the future of the Fort Howard property is still uncertain. File photo.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Delegate Robin Grammer, an Essex Republican, has introduced a bill in Maryland’s House of Delegates which seeks to take the 100-acre Fort Howard property out of federal hands and place it in the hands of the state.

House Bill 952 would require the State of Maryland to acquire Fort Howard should the federal government make all or part of it available for sale or other transfer of ownership. The bill is co-sponsored by fellow eastern Baltimore County delegates Bob Long, Ric Metzgar, Pat McDonough, Kathy Szeliga, Joe Cluster and Christian Miele, all Republicans, as well as delegates David E. Vogt III (R-Frederick, Carroll counties), C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County) and Pat Young (D-Catonsville).

Grammer told the East County Times that the bill came about after U.S. Senator Ben Cardin visited with the Baltimore County House delegation recently in Annapolis. Grammer used that occasion as a lobbying opportunity with the senator “because we haven’t had help from our federal delegation throughout this process,” he said.

“[The bill] would require action on behalf of the state,” Grammer said. “And my bill is to assure that if the federal government does take action to transfer ownership, that the state would take advantage of that.”

The Fort Howard former Veterans Administration hospital and campus which comprise the property are owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, the site is slated for future redevelopment under a 75-year lease held by developer Timothy Munshell and signed in 2014.

If the VA were to break its lease with the developer and seek to offload the property, the federal government’s procurement process dictates that it could be offered to other federal government agencies or outside groups. This has led to concern from people in the community that any number of undesirable projects - such as public “Section 8” housing or even a prison - could be planned for the site with little to no public input or influence.

“The problem is currently, if the developer that currently has the lease walks away, we don’t really have any control over what happens,” Grammer said. “We just want to make sure that if we do get the opportunity we take advantage of it so that we can have some kind of project that would serve our veterans.”

He said if the property is in the hands of the state, whatever is done with it “would be led by the community and political leadership” at the state and local, and possibly federal levels.

“What the state would do with it, I think that’s a blank page that we could
write the story if we get the opportunity,” the delegate said. He noted that the major problem with things currently is that elected officials and the community have little to no control over what is done with Fort Howard since it is being overseen by the VA. “And they’re disgusted with the state of the currently proposed development,” he said.

“The developers who have the lease now, I don’t think they can get the job done,” Grammer continued. “The new developer who came in to assist, they haven’t even provided a traffic study.”

Developer Sam Himmelrich, of Baltimore-based Himmelrich Associates, Inc., joined the conversation in October 2016 with a new proposal for the site and subsequently met with community groups multiple times. But he still has not officially decided to sign onto the project via the lease.

Grammer’s aim, through HB952, is to put the political leverage back in the hands of the community, he said.

“If they can’t come up with a development that is for the veterans and that the community agrees with, they could walk away and we could lose control of the property, and I think they know that,” he said.

Grammer said putting this “backstop” in place to give the state default control would put the leverage back in the hands of the community.

“Any party who is part of this project is going to understand that,” he said. “The community is going to have a huge stake in whatever project is ultimately developed there.”

The delegate admitted, though, that a big question mark for the issue still is whether or not the VA, or some other entity in the federal government, would even be willing to sell or otherwise transfer the Fort Howard property to the state. He said that is where the help of federally elected officials would come in.

“Senator Cardin sounded very amenable to helping us out with that, and we’re going to continue that line of dialogue until we work out that problem on the federal side,” Grammer said.

A hearing on the bill in the House Appropriations Committee has been scheduled for March 6 at 1 p.m.

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Parents, local officials put the heat on BCPS over discipline issues

Parents, local officials put the heat on BCPS over discipline issues
Interim Superintendent Verletta White (center) answered elected officials' questions in Annapolis on Feb. 2. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

In the midst of heavy scrutiny over ethical failures of Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) leadership under former Superintednet S. Dallas Dance, team BCPS is back under the spotlight as parents and local and state officials are calling for a review of the county’s disciplinary policies.

Citing a perceived uptick in violence and issues with discipline, parents and legislators have questioned whether or not BCPS is sweeping incidents of violence under the rug.

Interim Superintendent Verletta White appeared before Baltimore County’s House Delegation in Annapolis on Friday morning, Feb. 9, and BCPS representatives were present at the Northeast Area Education Advisory Council (NEAC) meeting on Monday night, Feb. 12, at Joppa View Elementary to hear from stakeholders. The message passed along to BCPS was straightforward: the public is losing trust in the school system.

“We need an independent audit to look over not just ethical concerns, but how the system handles disciplinary issues,” said one parent present at Monday night’s meeting. “Without an independent audit we can’t trust the findings.”

Throughout Monday night’s meeting, disgruntled and frustrated parents sounded off at Community Superintendent George Roberts, opining that BCPS’ unwillingness to act on disciplinary issues causes a strained learning environment that makes it impossible for students to learn, creating an unsafe environment.

Incidents being covered up to keep up appearances was an issue brought to White’s attention by multiple members of the House Delegation on Friday morning with Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6) questioning whether or not schools had “unwritten rules” about reporting violence and incidents involving firearms. White responded by saying she was not aware of anything of the sort.

“There is a bigger lack of trust with leadership and the board of education to the point where parents, students and teachers have completely lost trust,” Grammer said after the hearing. “It applies to spending and procurement issues, but it also applies to discipline.”

Grammer noted that he has been hearing about school discipline issues since he was elected in 2014. He told the East County Times that between a non-responsive Board of Education and teachers fearful of repercussions for speaking out, state legislators hear the brunt of concerns.

Last June, Grammer and County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7) issued a joint statement calling for a public hearing on disciplinary issues. According to Grammer, the response from BCPS Chief Communications Officer Mychael Dickerson was muted, with Dickerson saying, “I believe a lot of this is being brought up by social media and people sharing videos, but many of those that I’ve seen have been old, old videos.”

Grammer also contended that teachers from various schools in his district have highlighted the unwritten rules as a barrier.

“When you hear from multiple parents and go to different schools in the district and hear the same things, it ceases to be a conspiracy,” said Grammer. The writing is on the wall.”

Shortly after Grammer finished his line of questions, White was questioned by Delegate Kathy Szeliga (R-7). Three days before White’s visit to Annapolis, Szeliga and Delegate Joe Cluster (R-8) sent a letter to White about an incident that allegedly occurred a few months ago at Golden Ring Middle School. In the letter, obtained by the Times, Szeliga and Cluster detailed an incident they heard from a source close to the situation in which a child brought a gun to school and received a one-day suspension. The Times was unable to contact that source for this article.

White promised to follow up with Szeliga and Cluster, but as of Monday they had not heard a response. Dolores Pierorazio, an assistant to Dickerson, said “we have asked staff to look into [the allegations]” but “so far we have no information that is true.”

One of the biggest areas of frustration for parents has been disclosure. Multiple elected officials and parents have recently expressed frustration over being left out of the loop when it comes to punishment of a perpetrator of violence in schools.

But White and Roberts both noted that they are barred by law from divulging information about students. Roberts told those gathered at the NEAC meeting that the best the school system can do is offer to arrange a sit-down meeting between parents and students, and if the parents of the perpetrator do not show up there is no other way to learn more.

“We’re limited in what we can divulge about the investigation,” said Roberts. “I know that can be frustrating, but our hands are tied.”

Roberts said that he and his team would work on communication issues and pointed to a letter received by Perry Hall High School parents recently that served as a reminder about social media policy. He stated that in that instance, BCPS was being proactive.

But many in the crowd noted that BCPS usually reserves that type of communication for after an incident, leading many to believe that something had happened and they were being kept in the dark.

After the meeting, Councilman David Marks (R-5) expressed his frustration with the current situation, but remained hopeful.

“I believe we are making some changes, such as the 62 new cameras that have been installed at Perry Hall High School and the new staff members in the proposed budget who will review residency,” he said. “But my constituents are generally unsatisfied with what they see as permissive discipline policies, and that needs to change.”

That sentiment was echoed by Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer, who is in the midst of a campaign for county executive.

“It’s painfully apparent that there’s a deep disconnect between parent expectations and how the administration responds,” said Redmer.

On Thursday, Feb. 15, Del. Christian Miele (R-8) will host an education town hall at Perry Hall High School at 7 p.m. The Southeast Area Education Advisory Council will host a school safety and discipline meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. at Oliver Beach Elementary School.

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‘Triple threat’ Laura Clary named county’s Woman of the Year

‘Triple threat’ Laura Clary named county’s Woman of the Year
GBMC's chief nursing officer labeled Clary a "triple threat" because of her art of caring, her knowledge of the science behind forensic nursing and her ability to empower her patients to take back their lives. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Laura Clary has her dream job at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson.

The Essex resident has always had a passion for clinical medical care and forensic science and has been able to blend those two passions in her role as a forensic nurse examiner and manager of the hospital’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) program.

That passion, exceptional leadership and team-building skills, her caring nature and community service have landed a title that is icing on the perfect job cake: Baltimore County’s Woman of the Year for 2018.

“It came as quite a surprise,” Clary told the East County Times of the honor bestowed upon her by the Baltimore County Commission for Women. “It is very humbling, to say the least.”

Clary was born and reared in Essex, where she lives with her husband, Joe, and two children. The 2002 graduate of Eastern Technical High School knew early on she was interested in a medical career and enrolled in the school’s allied health program.

She continued her education at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Essex campus, where she received an associate’s degree in nursing. While working full-time as a nurse, she completed her bachelor’s degree in nursing through American Sentinel University, an online institution.

While Clary is honored by the award, she gives the credit to “an awesome team of nurses and victim advocates that makes my job easy.”

Now staffed with 17 team members, the SAFE program provides clinical and emotional support to victims of adult and child sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking, according to Clary.

“We do forensic exams and photography to document the assault and to gather evidence,” she said. “And then the evidence is packaged and sent to the Baltimore County crimes unit.”

While most patients come from Baltimore County, Clary said the GBMC program provides care for anyone who shows up, regardless of where the assault took place.

She credits her team for making her job easy, but her colleagues and supervisors believe she is the one who has made the team a tightly-knit, collaborative group of professionals.

“I think she is a phenomenal team leader,” said Evelyn Kim, a forensic nurse examiner. “Laura allows all of her forensic nurses to be leaders and fosters an environment for us to claim responsibility for our decisions.”

The team is available 24-7-365, according to Kim, and team members often work alone and have to be confident in their patient care and decision-making.

“With Laura, you know you’ll be supported in your decisions and encouraged to be your own leaders,” Kim said. “Allowing your team to exercise leadership is strong stuff.”

Clary’s trust in and empowerment of her team members has created a positive environment with little to no turnover, according to Kim.

“There is no selfishness here, we all collaboratively work together,” Kim said. “Thanks to Laura’s leadership, we have a team where people stay forever.”

JoAnn Z. Ioannou, GBMC’s senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer, had no shortage of superlatives when talking about her star employee.

“It is no surprise to us that Laura was named Baltimore County’s Woman of the Year,” Ioannou said in a phone interview. “She is absolutely amazing, extremely knowledgeable and an engaging, caring leader.”

Calling her a “triple threat,” Ioannou cited Clary’s art of caring, her knowledge of the science behind forensic nursing and her ability to empower her patients to take back their lives as just a few of the reasons she is so successful and respected.

“We are incredibly proud of her,” Ioannou said. “She is absolutely deserving of this award.”

The team’s meticulous work leads to a “high success rate for convictions,” according to Ioannou, and plays a role in helping patients recover from “the worst day in their lives.”

Clary is no stranger to significant awards. Last year, she was named America’s Most Amazing Nurse by Prevention magazine and television program “The Doctors.”

“Tons” of nominees were whittled down to five finalists, according to Clary, who were invited to New York for interviews and a photo shoot. Clary was selected as the winner and was treated to a trip to Hollywood, where she appeared on an episode of “The Doctors.”

She also received $1,000 to give to her charity of choice, which she ultimately donated to SAFE, and will also travel to Iceland in May, thanks to an all-expenses-paid trip provided by the contest.

Clary and other award winners will be honored March 1 in a ceremony hosted by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Parkville resident Jennifer Aubert-Utz, Baltimore County’s assistant fire chief, was named the Woman Making a Difference honoree and Catonsville High School senior Gabriella Mclean was named the Young Woman of the Year.

The Woman of the Year honor is especially meaningful because of her roots, Clary said.

“I’m a product of Baltimore County, a product of Baltimore County Public Schools,” she said. “Baltimore County is where my heart is so this award is special to me.”

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Marks announces run for reelection, is again running unopposed

Marks announces run for reelection, is again running unopposed
David Marks (left) and supporters march in an Independence Day parade. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks announced on Tuesday, Feb. 6, that he will run for reelection to his Fifth District seat on the County Council, the same day that he filed his candidacy with the county’s Board of Elections.

The Fifth District includes the communities of Towson and some of Loch Raven Village in its western portions, as well as Carney, Perry Hall, Kingsville and parts of Parkville, Nottingham and White Marsh in northeastern Baltimore County. Marks has held the seat since first being elected in 2010.

When he first came into office, Marks said in an interview with the East County Times, he wanted to operate in a bipartisan manner to work with political leaders and community activists of all persuasions.

“I wanted to set a tone of getting things done from the beginning,” he said.

Marks’ specific priorities after being elected included the need to preserve green space throughout the district, revitalize commercial areas and decrease school overcrowding. While his office has made progress in each of those areas, he said, those remain his priorities.

The councilman pointed out that eight new parks have either been completed or are under construction in the Fifth District since he was elected, four of which are in Perry Hall. Those include the Perry Paw Dog Park, Gough Park, the Soukup Arena and Angel Park, a handicap-accessible playground meant to be able to be used by children of all abilities.

“And through zoning decisions we have preserved a significant amount of acreage throughout the northeast,” he said, referring to the 2012 and 2016 rezoning cycles, through each of which Marks reduced the building densities on thousands of acres of land in his district.

Now, Marks said he has the specific goal of getting a regional park center built in Kingsville on the site of the former Mount Vista golf course, which is currently a 111-acre public park.

Regarding commercial revitalization, Marks said his office has made a lot of progress in downtown Towson and along the Joppa Road corridor. Additionally, he established the Perry Hall Commercial Revitalization District and brought attention to several blighted areas of Perry Hall.

“I think we’re making progress there,” he said.

School overcrowding, however, has been the most difficult issue to address because it is the most costly, according to Marks.

“We pursued a two-pronged approach,” he said. “First we downzoned a significant amount of acreage in the most overcrowded school districts. And during that time, we worked with the county executive’s staff and the school system to obtain funding to actually build new schools.”

Marks noted that two new elementary schools which will serve children in his district will be finished within the next two years and a new middle school for the area is slated for completion in 2021.

“I think we’re making progress in that area too,” he said.

On top of that, Marks said his office has gotten a “significant” amount of road resurfacing done, including along Forge, Hines, Chapel and parts of E. Joppa roads, as well as Bangert Avenue. He also advocated for funding and construction of two new volunteer fire stations to serve communities in his district - in Kingsville and White Marsh - each of which is in progress.

While Marks tallied his accomplishments in Perry Hall and other areas of the eastern parts of his district, he said he has focused a lot of attention on the western areas as well, particularly Towson.

Marks, a Republican, said Towson is the most Democratic part of his district and conceded that that is where he was least known when first elected. He noted he has spent a lot of time since then meeting with community leaders and focusing on issues in that area.

“Certainly I’ve paid attention to Towson because it is the area where I had the least amount of experience before I was elected,” he admitted.

“Having said that, my record reflects work from Charles Street to the Harford County line,” he said, referring to the entire east-west breadth of the district.

As of press time and with just two weeks left before the Feb. 27 filing deadline, no other candidates had yet filed to challenge Marks in either the 2018 primary or general elections, meaning Marks is fully unopposed for the second term in a row.

In response, Marks said, “I think I have demonstrated an ability to reach across the party divide, and people find that refreshing. I’ve demonstrated a sense of bipartisanship and of getting things accomplished.”

He said he thinks people also respect that he has an “independent streak.”

“I’ve challenged developers when they were wrong and I have gone against the county executive when he is wrong,” Marks said.

“Good policy represents good politics,” he added. “When you’re doing the right thing people recognize that, and I think it brings you support as an elected official.”

When first elected, Marks made a campaign promise that he would term-limit himself to three terms. And he said he intends to keep that promise, making his next term his last if elected. He added that he would not change his mind if he happened not to accomplish everything he hopes to over the next four years.

He said he is a firm believer in term limits and that a natural turnover on the County Council is healthy.

“I’m sticking to my term limits pledge,” he said. “I think you should leave office with a significant amount of accomplishments but ready for something new.”

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