Here you will find all of the East County Times' major news coverage over the past six months.
Older news articles are continually added to our Archives section.

Tradepoint Atlantic buys Sparrows Point shipyard for $33.5 million

Tradepoint Atlantic buys Sparrows Point shipyard for $33.5 million
The former Bethlehem Steel shipyard, then operating as BB Metals, won a naval ship-breaking contract to dismantle the USNS Range Sentinel at the shipyard in 2012. In its prime, the Sentinel saw action in World War II. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Tradepoint Atlantic officials have recently acquired another piece of the Sparrows Point puzzle that will afford them total control over the modalities available at the more than 3,000-acre property that is the former site of Bethlehem Steel Corp. and its many successors.

Tradepoint has acquired the Point’s shipyard, which has changed hands several times and operated under many different names since Bethlehem Steel sold the property in the late 1990s, according to online taxation and property records.

Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s vice president of corporate affairs, confirmed to the East County Times on May 8 that the property transfer had been settled “a couple of weeks ago.”

Online Maryland property tax records updated earlier this week show the property legally changed hands April 30. SPS Limited Partnership LLLP sold the 226-acre parcel to TPA Properties 9 LLC for $33.5 million.

Asked for more detail about the acquisition and how it fit into the industrial and distribution complex’s plans for the future, Tomarchio declined to elaborate.

“We plan to put out an official statement in the next week or two, and we’ll have more details and background for you when we release that statement,” he told the Times.

The marketing of Tradepoint as a full-modality transportation and distribution center has centered on the property’s deep channel shipping access, an in-house railroad and close proximity to interstate highways and commercial freight rail lines.

It is unclear whether Tradepoint will operate the shipyard or lease it to a contractor, but the sale ensures that the company will control the facility that provides drydocking and manufacturing capabilities for vessel repairs, shipbuilding and ship-breaking.

The shipyard property has a storied past. Steelmaking and shipbuilding began at The Point in 1887 when Maryland Steel set up shop on what was previously waterfront farmland. The entire property was acquired by Bethlehem Steel in 1916, according to online histories of the land. The shipyard parcel was sold in 1997 to Veritas Capital Fund, which operated the facility under the name of Baltimore Marine Industries Inc. Veritas subsequently sold it to Barletta Industries. Barletta operated under the name of Sparrows Point Shipyard and Industrial Complex.

The land continued to lose value as the shipbuilding market faltered. BMI/Veritas sold the property in 2004 for $9.25 million, and subsequent sales were for $4.8 million and $2 million before the sale to Tradepoint for $33.5 million, according to taxation and assessment records. read more

Chesapeake Realty Partners proposes luxury apartments in White Marsh

Chesapeake Realty Partners proposes luxury apartments in White Marsh
As proposed, the project would consist of one- and two-bedroom units and "high-end" amenities such as a club house, recreational open space in the center of the site and some covered parking. Image courtesy of Chesapeak Realty Partners.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Eastside TRF, LLC, which is affiliated with Chesapeake Realty Partners, is proposing to build 324 “high-end” apartments, called “Avenue Grand,” on a nearly 13-acre, undeveloped site within the White Marsh business community.

The property, located at 8120 and 8130 Corporate Drive, backs up to Sandpiper Circle and is “the last piece of property on [the west] side of I-95 that’s available in the business community,” according to Jim Matis, engineer for the project.

The adjoining property has two existing three-story office buildings. The subject site was initially planned as part of that office complex, Matis said at a May 9 community input meeting for the project, but a former owner re-envisioned it for apartments.

“Finally, Chesapeake is taking it to that next step,” he said, “which makes sense with the proximity to the mall and the proximity to services relative to the business center.”

The land is currently zoned for light industrial use, but the Baltimore County Council passed legislation last year to allow residential uses at the site due to its proximity to the White Marsh Town Center district.

The project plan calls for four buildings, each with 81 units and five stories tall, Matis said. The complex would consist of about 60 percent one-bedroom units and 40 percent two-bedroom units. Primary access to the site would be from Sandpiper Circle, and it would likely have secondary access through the office complex.

CRP, according to its president, Jon Mayers, has built such projects as Bay Country and The Woods at Bay Country in Chase, as well as the Honeygo Town Center in Perry Hall and more recently the Winthrop in Towson which he called “highly successful.”

“It’s got the highest rent in Baltimore County,” Mayers said. “It is without a doubt a high-end, Class-A product for the county.”

The vision for Avenue Grand is similar to the Winthrop, he said, albeit with a different building type, set of amenities and a slightly different target demographic. But it would have the same design features, such as high-end kitchen and bathroom finishes, wide hallways, high ceilings, abundant light, a washer and dryer in every unit and other such perks - and they expect to get slightly higher rents there than at the Winthrop.

He added they do not skimp on bedroom sizes. “So they’re really luxurious.”

The target demographics for the project, Mayers explained, are millennials who do not yet have children, who want a variety of things to do and who want an urban-like lifestyle without living downtown, as well as empty nesters who want to stay near their families and who want amenities to fit their active lifestyles.

“There aren’t a lot of options, if you look at the apartments in the area, for the people who can afford it; they would not rent those apartments,” he said. “A lot of those people are going downtown now.”

In addressing concerns from residents about “affordable housing,” the CRP president assured “this is not that.”

“This is not Section 8, we don’t get government financing, we won’t have a HUD loan, we won’t have anything like that,” Mayers said. “This is our money.”

Ryan Nawrocki, a candidate for County Council who attended the meeting, pointed out that any rental property owner can accept government housing vouchers and expressed concern that CRP could do that with this project, particularly if the County Council passes legislation requiring rental owners to accept the vouchers or set aside a certain percentage of their units for affordable housing.

But Mayers noted those rules are not in effect now, so they are not what will govern the design or scope of this project.

“We’re not taking Section 8; we never have,” he said. “We can’t get the highest rent in the county and have the quality of project that we want and have the residents we want move there and stay there if we move Section 8 people in. It would be completely against everything we’re trying to do.”

Nawrocki, who arrived late to the meeting, also posted on social media afterward that the developer would seek to have “zero open space for the development.”

However, before the candidate arrived, Mayers explained to attendees that the majority of the project would be centered around a “really large, gracious green space” with things like pavillions, fire pits and hammock gardens, plus a pool and a 9,500-square-foot club center.

He did say, though, that CRP would seek to pay a waiver fee for the remainder of the required open space they could not supply on the site.

Regarding children living in the new development and attending area schools, Nawrocki pointed out that enrollment at Fullerton Elementary School, for which the project would be zoned, is currently at 132 percent of capacity.

Baltimore County Public Schools enrollment projections also show enrollment at the school continuing to rise in the coming years. But those projections do not take into account the planned new 700-seat elementary school on nearby Ridge Road, slated to open in August 2020, according to BCPS spokeswoman Dolores Pierorazio.

Mayers said his project would likely not start construction until late 2019 or early 2020, leaving time for the new school to open before adding any new students.

“The additional seats at the Ridge Road site are anticipated to provide significant relief to the area when they are added,” Pierorazio said. “The project was specifically identified to provide capacity relief to the [northeast] area.”

Patricia Malone, land use attorney for the project, said there is also available capacity in adjacent school districts, “which is a proper way to have a development project approved.”

Per the county’s calculation for children from the project attending area schools, they assume 11 elementary school-aged children would live there. But because of the product type and demographics, they have experienced lower numbers.

“We follow the county calculation,” Mayers said, “but in a project like this we typically have less than what the calculation says.”

He said market studies have shown that there are plenty of families who want three or four bedrooms, “but they don’t pay the rent we want, and they’re not going to create the lifestyle for the other folks that we want.”

He could not guarantee some families wouldn’t move in, but added only three school-aged children live in the Winthrop out of 292 units.

Nawrocki also raised concerns about traffic, noting that the nearby intersection of MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard at Honeygo Boulevard is heavily congested and is currently rated at a level of service (LOS) D, meaning drivers can experience delays during peak hours.

But Baltimore County and the Maryland Department of Transportation consider an LOS D “acceptable” on roadways.

Matis, the project engineer, said the new housing would not change the intersection’s rating.

Additionally, there is significant other major traffic infrastructure in the area, including MD-43 at Perry Hall Boulevard - the closest major intersection to the site - which functions at a LOS A during both morning and evening peak hours, according to state data.

Other community members expressed excitement about the project for what they saw as the potential to breathe new life into some of the area’s older businesses.

“I’m excited about it because I think White Marsh Mall is dying,” said White Marsh resident Mark Thompson. “Something like this is a step toward maybe turning that mall around.”

He added that his community, which he said is the closest neighborhood to the site, wants to see the it happen because they see it as positive growth.

Sandra Lombardo, branch manager at the White Marsh library, said she supported the project because the targeted demographic groups are some of the heaviest users of libraries. read more

Education, crime, small business are District 8 candidate priorities

Education, crime, small business are District 8 candidate priorities
Norma Secoura (left) addresses the crowd while Carl Jackson, Kevin Leary, Joe Cluster, Ben Boehl, Christian Miele and Eric Bromwell wait for their turn. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The dais at the Parkville Senior Center was packed last Thursday, May 10, as the Greater Parkville Community Council hosted a forum for local House of Delegate and State Senate candidates.

Challengers and incumbents running in districts 8, 42A and 42B were invited to share their vision with and take questions from Parkville, Carney, Cub Hill and Towson residents.

Before yielding the floor to the candidates, GPCC President Ruth Baisden spoke of the accomplishments of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who died suddenly early that morning, and asked for a moment of silence in his memory.

Candidates were given three minutes each to introduce themselves and to share their visions and priorities for their respective districts. For the purposes of this article, only District 8 candidates are covered.

Many candidates bragged about being lifelong or long-term residents of the district and spoke of attending local public schools, colleges and universities. Across party lines, candidates spoke of the need to improve the school system - including academics, the physical condition of buildings and the need for more transparency in the day-to-day governance of the school system. Other priority items discussed included lowering crime rates, attracting new businesses to the “Main Street” area of Parkville, health care, the opioid crisis and improving the general quality of life in the district.

Current Eighth District Delegate Christian Miele is giving up that seat to run against Democrat Kathy Klausmeier for the district’s State Senate seat.

He spoke of his record while in the House of Delegates and pointed to causes he had championed, including a tax credit program designed to “incentivize businesses to come to Parkville’s Main Street,” and a program to hire unemployed military veterans.

“It’s time to vote for change because change is necessary to move Maryland forward,” Miele said.

House of Delegates Republican challenger Joe Norman, who introduced himself as a small business owner and recreation council coach, did not pull any punches when explaining why he is running for office.

“I’m sick and tired of being treated like a bottomless piggy bank by our state government,” he said. “I’m tired of business as usual.”

Jared Wineberg introduced himself as a Republican but said that is not his identity; he is a man with Christ, family and country/state as his priorities.

The new Parkville resident moved to the area about three years ago after being drawn to its small-town feel. He said he would like to see “a really cool downtown;” he is happy to see an elected, accountable-to-the-people school board get seated this year; and said he is concerned about the state of education and the crime rate.

“Police are professionals and we need to support them with the resources they need,” he said.

Republican Norma Secoura told the crowd that her “bread and butter” has been community work. She cited her many years of community involvement, including membership and participation with the Overlea Community Association and Fullerton Fireworks Committee efforts.

“I want to be in the House of Delegates because I care,” she said. “It’s a natural progression of my work.”

The lifelong district resident told the crowd that she has a “665” phone number she has had her entire life.

Carl Jackson, a Democrat, works at the University of Maryland at Baltimore in its School of Social Work. He told the crowd of starting at the bottom, in the mail room, and working his way up to administration while also earning a master’s degree in business.

“Education is everything for me,” he said. “I am the first of my family to receive a higher education degree and I am a graduate of Overlea High School.”

He said he believes new elected leaders are needed because leaders who spend too much time in Annapolis “tend to do what they want instead of what the community wants.”

Republican Kevin Leary is a military veteran, a former cop and a small business owner, he told the crowd. He is concerned about the school system, which he said is teaching students “how to take a test” and little else.

He also expressed concern about the amount of student misbehavior and how it is addressed.

“There has to be discipline,” he said. “I don’t want to keep everyone out,” but he believes that after interventions fail, students need to face consequences for their bad behavior.

He said he would like to see efforts to attract more small businesses to the area and believes Maryland’s regulations “crush” small business owners.

Republican incumbent Delegate Joe Cluster is in the second and final year in the term he was appointed to finish after his father was appointed as the state’s parole commissioner by Gov. Larry Hogan.

He said Parkville is “very important” to him and cited putting up with long commutes while working in the District of Columbia and Annapolis because he did not want to move out of his Parkville community.

He told the crowd his top priority is getting Hogan reelected.

“A divided government works for you; a monopoly government doesn’t work for you,” he told the crowd. He believes more Republicans need to get elected so Hogan’s projects and initiatives stand a better chance of being enacted.

Republican challenger Ben Boehl, a “lifelong district resident,” said the current Democrat-controlled state government is “pro-criminal and anti-business” and he would like to see that changed.

He said he is tired of criminals being given “four, five and six chances” by the criminal justice system and also expressed concern about school budget money being spent on digital devices while “school buildings are crumbling.”

Incumbent Delegate Eric Bromwell, a Democrat, said businesses are under-represented in Annapolis because it is “very difficult for business owners to go to Annapolis for 90 days each year.”

He expressed concern about the widespread problem of opioid abuse and lauded Perry Hall resident Toni Torsch for her involvement in spurring laws to address the problem.

Citing the easier access to Narcan, an antidote for opioid overdoses, and the creation of a standing order that lets any pharmacist sell Narcan to anyone who requests it, Bromwell said, “Toni Torsch is the reason Maryland is a national leader in this effort.”

Bromwell also said he is not happy with overdevelopment, with a CVS or other chain pharmacy on seemingly every street corner.

Maryland’s primary election will be held Tuesday, June 26. The top three vote getters in each major party will advance to the general election, set for Nov. 6.

Those desiring more detailed information on candidates can visit their websites and social media pages. read more

Bhandari positions himself as the education candidate in District 8

Bhandari positions himself as the education candidate in District 8
Supporters, fellow candidates and elected officials joined Bhandari to cut the ribbon on his campaign headquarters in Perry Hall. Photo courtesy of Harry Bhandari.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

In 2014, Harry Bhandari just missed out on the Democratic nomination for the District 8 House of Delegates race, losing by less than three percent of the vote. While it is easy to get discouraged and take time for oneself after such a close loss, the ever-affable Bhandari did the opposite.

Bhandari called Delegate Eric Bromwell - a man who had just beaten Bhandari in the primary - and invited him to his house for dinner. The two discussed the future and what Bhandari should do in the meantime.

“He ran an extremely efficient and positive campaign four years ago, and when he decided to run again it was an easy decision to team up,” said Bromwell.

Since then, Bhandari has been quite visible. He served as president of the Linover Community Association, was appointed by District 6 County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins to serve as a member of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee and, in 2017, was awarded the Baltimore County Asian American Excellence Award.

A Nepalese immigrant, Bhandari knows firsthand the struggle of the American dream. In his homeland, he was one of the youngest principals in Kathmandu. When he arrived in America, he found himself working at a gas station trying to make ends meet.

“It was very terrible,” Bhandari told the East County Times. “I was working 12- to 16-hour shifts. But I came here with a dream, and I’m living that now. I willingly became a U.S. citizen, and this country has given me a tremendous opportunity. Everybody wants to run to win elections, but I ran because I felt it was a community service to the country that gave me so much.”

Since then, Bhandari has had schooling at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He has worked as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Baltimore County and worked in Baltimore City schools. With his background steeped in education, it should come as no surprise that education is his top priority.

“I will always advocate for better schools. As a teacher, I have firsthand experience with the issues facing the education system,” said Bhandari.

He cited overcrowding and old infrastructure in the county’s school system as two of the biggest issues for his constituents. Bhandari stressed that teaching 30 students might be fine in a lecture setting, but noted that “engaging students in a productive struggle” requires smaller class sizes. He also questioned how funds are currently disbursed.

“We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, no doubt. But we have students in schools with brown drinking water. Overlea High School got $800,000 for artificial turf, but the rooftop is leaking. It shouldn’t be like that,” said Bhandari.

Bhandari applauded the General Assembly for putting a measure on the November ballot that will see a lockbox set up for casino revenue earmarked for education but said he would like to see more done to help fund education initiatives. He proposed potentially taking a cue from Colorado and legalizing recreational marijuana to generate tax funds that would go into funding education initiatives, such as universal pre-kindergarten.

“Good schools create good jobs in the long run,” Bhandari said.

Bhandari, a Nottingham resident, also advocated for more vocational training, which he believes would have a great economic benefit for many reasons. Besides limiting potential student debt, Bhandari contends that vocational training would help keep jobs in America.

“Sometimes I’m disheartened when you call a business at midnight for anything, and who picks up the phone? Someone in Korea, India or the Philippines,” said Bhandari. “It’s so disheartening. The opportunity should belong to our kids first, and we have to invest in them.”

Besides education, Bhandari also wants to focus on protecting health care, especially for the elderly, and improving transportation by creating and connecting bike trails, like the Northeast Branch Trail.

The Democratic  hopeful also wants to see an  increase in small businesses in his district, but acknowledged that it comes back to education and vocational training.

Bhandari has built up a strong level of excitement around his campaign. At a recent ribbon cutting for his campaign headquarters in Perry Hall, about 70 people showed up to lend their support, including Bromwell, State Senator Kathy Klausmeier and Johnny Olszewski, Jr. Bromwell told the Times that he hopes Bhandari can pull off a win to provide extra support in the General Assembly.

“It’s always good to have another ally in Annapolis, especially if it’s a high-character guy like Harry,” said Bromwell. read more

East County Times brings home three awards from MDDC contest

East County Times brings home three awards from MDDC contest
ECT Editor Devin Crum brought home first- and second-place awards for Growth and Land Use and State Government reporting, respectively.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By ECT staff -

At the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association’s News With Integrity 2017 editorial and design conference, the East County Times brought home three awards for editorial submissions.

The contest recognized exemplary work published during the 2017 calendar year and was held Friday, May 11, in Annapolis.

Times Editor Devin Crum won first place in the Growth and Land Use reporting category for Division D. He also took second place in the State Government reporting category for Division D.

Reporter Marge Neal earned an award in the division for coming up with a creative headline for an article. Her headline, “Fullerton fireworks organizers hope display doesn’t go up in smoke,” took second place.

Ms. Neal’s article explored concern that the Fullerton Fourth of July fireworks display might not have enough money to continue the show, and their pleas for more support from the community. Look for an update in the Times on how that event is shaping up for this year in the coming weeks.

Mr. Crum’s second-place article talked about the issue of abandoned boats in local waterways and legislation passed in the state legislature, then signed by Governor Larry Hogan, which sought to simplify the course of action authorities could take to remove them.

However, environmental stewardship organizations such as the Back River Restoration Committee have still struggled with unclear regulations for addressing the issue.

And Mr. Crum’s first-place article brought to light a White Marsh community’s concerns over a proposal for 150 new townhomes in their area as part of a project called Pulaski Crossing.

The neighbors felt the project did not fit with the surrounding area, which is mostly commercial or industrial. Additionally, what other homes are found in the area are single-family detached structures, not townhomes.

As recently reported in the Times, the community association fought approval of the development through the county’s judicial approval process and ultimately prevailed.

It remains to be seen whether or not the developer for the project will appeal the decision.

ECT congratulates both writers for their hard work, and we look forward to seeing many more awards in their futures. read more

Kamenetz, White address state superintendent’s decision to halt BCPS superintendent appointment

Kamenetz, White address state superintendent’s decision to halt BCPS superintendent appointment
While Dundalk Elementary students and faculty were in high spirits at the ground breaking ceremony for the new school, BCPS higher-ups and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz were still reeling from the decision to block the full appointment of Verletta White. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last week, state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon declined to approve Verletta White as the permanent Baltimore County schools superintendent, citing concerns about White’s ethics disclosure form and the lack of an audit for the school system’s procurement process for awarding contracts.

The decision by Salmon triggered a harsh response from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who accused Governor Larry Hogan of meddling in local affairs and ordering Salmon to block White’s appointment.

In a statement sent out on Wednesday shortly after the news broke, Kamenetz accused Hogan of using children’s education to play politics.

“He’s created turmoil over the school calendar and the school construction process,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “Now he directs his schools chief to take the unprecedented step to overturn the judgment of the local school board who knows Superintendent White best. He’s shameless!”

On Friday, May 4, at the ground breaking ceremony for the new Dundalk Elementary School, Kamenetz doubled down on his claim that Hogan was interfering in the process and also questioned whether or not Salmon has the authority to block White’s appointment.

“This is a disturbing trend from Governor Hogan,” said Kamenetz, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the upcoming gubernatorial primary. “I guess he’s trying to hurt me as his political opponent, but what he’s really doing is hurting these kids.”

Kamenetz went on to blast Salmon, saying that the “state superintendent has  no authority to withhold her approval of superintendent White.

“The only basis she can do that is if superintendent White is not qualified and she’s certainly well qualified after serving 24 years in this school system. The real issue is this is Larry Hogan playing politics.”

Hogan’s aides dismissed Kamenetz’s accusation, pointing out that the state superintendent is appointed by the state school board. When Salmon was appointed to the position, six of the 11 voting members of the board had been appointed by Hogan. This is the first time a local superintendent has been blocked at the state level.

Hogan’s spokeswoman, Amelia Chasse, said that the governor did not have any communication with Salmon about the decision to block White.

“It is startling that Mr. Kamenetz does not share the superintendent’s concerns, given what has gone on in the Baltimore County school system on his watch,” said Chasse, alluding to the recent prison sentence of former BCPS Superintendent Dallas Dance.

Dance was charged with perjury for lying on financial disclosure forms and was sentenced on April 20 to six months in prison.

White took over as interim superintendent just under a year ago after Dance resigned one year into his second four-year term.

White told reporters that her initial reaction was one of disappointment, but said she could not focus on that at the moment.

“My focus has been on the permanent superintendency, and so that’s where I’m keeping and maintaining my focus,” said White. “I’m not a politician and I don’t get into the politics.”

The decision by Salmon sent shockwaves through Baltimore County last week, with politicians piling on. State Senator Jim Brochin, a Democrat who is seeking the county executive seat in Baltimore County, told the East County Times that White should have never been appointed to a full term before school board elections later this year, which will likely see many new faces on the beleaguered board.

“I’ve said all along that I thought the most pragmatic thing for the board to have done is to appoint her for one year and let the incoming elected school board make a decision on who the next superintendent was going to be,” said Brochin.

At the heart of the issue was whether or not Salmon would be willing to extend White’s interim status for another year. Baltimore County school board chair Edward Gilliss had previously stated that the board was looking at all available options, including applying for a waiver. However, that changed in mid-April, and Gilliss stated that Salmon would likely not be willing to grant a waiver.

A spokesperson for Salmon stated at the time that she would not be willing to go on the record about potential discussions with Gilliss. The East County Times had requested an interview with Gilliss on Friday after the ground breaking ceremony, but he left as soon as it ended. A call to Gilliss went unreturned by press time.

Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6), who led the charge in Annapolis for a comprehensive audit of Baltimore County Public Schools, referred to Salmon’s decision as “a victory for east Baltimore County” and “a statement that we want to see new direction.”

“This is a remnant of an un-elected school board,” said Grammer. “There’s no way that everything you’re going to happen when the new class is elected next year.

That sentiment was echoed by House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-7).

“This politically-appointed school board pushed through a partisan selection, despite concerns about ethics and audits, completely disregarding the real and lasting change the citizens want; the change that will come under the newly-formed school board,” Szeliga said.

Szeliga, Grammer and Delegate Pat McDonough, a Republican candidate for county executive, had been three of the most vocal detractors of White throughout this whole ordeal. Szeliga expressed her concerns to Salmon via a letter in the weeks leading up to White’s appointment, while McDonough has consistently railed against her on the campaign trail.

McDonough has repeatedly stated that while White is a nice person, she is the wrong person for the job. He had been advocating for a national search with the position that the lame-duck school board should not appoint a new superintendent right before an elected board takes over.

Grammer added that the board should have been following the lead of the minority group of board members, comprised of Julie Henn, Ann Miller, Kathleen Causey and former county executive Roger Hayden, who had been calling for a nationwide search for superintendent.

Two weeks before the board voted to appoint White, they approved a contract for a nationwide search, though no headway had been made on the search. The decision to award the contract to the same firm that brought Dance to Baltimore County also came under scrutiny.

The circus surrounding White completely overshadowed Friday’s groundbreaking event at Dundalk Elementary. Officials had gathered to celebrate the beginning of construction on a new $46.8 million building project which would see the existing building, which was built in 1926, replaced with a state-of-the-art building.

The building is slated to open in August 2019, with the capacity to hold 735 students. read more

Judge denies plan for townhomes in White Marsh, citing Master Plan

Judge denies plan for townhomes in White Marsh, citing Master Plan
The subject site in the center, previously cleared and graded for a Carmax project, is almost completely surrounded by commercial uses and single-family detached housing. Image courtesy of Google.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen sent out his decision last Tuesday, May 1, to reject a plan for 150 new townhomes along Pulaski Highway in White Marsh.

The plan, known as Pulaski Crossing, would have seen the homes built on a 31-acre parcel at 11301 Pulaski Highway, which was the former site of the Pulaski Drive-in and was previously proposed for development of a Carmax auction and maintenance facility.

However, neighbors opposed the plan calling it incompatible with the area, and Judge Beverungen cited a lack of conformity with the county’s Master Plan 2020 in his decision.

Beverungen focused his legal analysis of the plan chiefly on three issues: compatibility, density and Master Plan compliance.

The developer, represented by land use attorneys David Karceski and Adam Rosenblatt of Venable, LLP, argued that a compatibility analysis for the development was not required due to the zoning classification of the land being developed.

Protestants against the project, represented by attorney Michael McCann, argued that the analysis was required, but Beverungen sided with the developer, finding that it is not.

Regarding density, Beverungen stated in his decision that, due to the property’s zoning, “sufficient density exists for the 150 townhomes proposed, and the Protestants’ arguments to the contrary... are not persuasive.”

When he got to the issue of Master Plan compliance, however, Beverungen came to a different conclusion.

The experts who testified on the matter - Bill Monk for the developer and Chris Jakubiak for the opponents - took opposite opinions about whether the proposal was compatibile with the Master Plan.

Monk, a land planner with Morris & Ritchie Associates, Inc., noted that the county’s Master Plan designates the area as an “employment center,” meaning that it consists of “a variety of commercial uses, predominantly employment-oriented, some with retail and housing,” according to the document itself.

He justified the use of housing on the subject site in that people could live close to their place of employment.

“The whole movement for several years has been toward mixed-use communities whereby you provide a mix of various types of land-use activities to reduce travel time for people having to commute to work and provide other services in those areas,” he said, such as retail.

Jakubiak, of Jakubiak and Associates Town Planning, took the opposite stance, however. The proposed project is not at all consistent with the Master Plan, he believed, because it does not meet any of the compatibility standards laid out in it.

He added that a solely residential use should not be in an area designated as an employment center.

Beverungen pointed out in his decision that Master Plan 2020, approved in November 2010, was the first such plan in Baltimore County to adopt a concept of transect planning, which seeks to describe permissible land uses within each of the six transects.

The document places the subject property within a “Rural Residential Zone” transect and describes the designation as consisting of “large lot single-family detached housing.”

Monk testified his belief that the designation was not appropriate inside the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) which serves to concentrate development in more urban areas of the county while preserving more rural areas.

“Given the fact that we are inside the URDL, the transect, in my opinion, does not make any sense at this point in time,” he said.

He added he did not believe that portion of the Master Plan to be binding and that its purpose is simply to “provide guidance.”

“That’s the beauty of the Master Plan..., they’re not meant to concrete, they’re not meant to be static,” he said, “and the county peppers the Master Plan with all kinds of language about its conceptual nature.”

It was on that notion that Beverungen hinged his decision, however.

“While the developer correctly notes the Master Plan itself indicates it is a conceptual document, the [Baltimore County Code] provides expressly that all development must comply with the Master Plan,” the judge wrote. Citing relevant case law, he said, “it becomes a binding document when a jurisdiction (like Baltimore County) enacts legislation requiring that all development conform to such plans.”

Beverungen also pointed to language in the law which states, “As applied to zoning, the transect is not intended as a ‘guide’ but rather as a regulation.”

“Obviously, the high density townhouses proposed herein would not be in conformity with that transect designation,” he wrote. “As such, the plan is not in conformity with Master Plan 2020 and must be denied...”

Courtney Gruber, president of the Bowerman-Loreley Beach Community Association which hired McCann to oppose the project, said she was “delighted” at the decision.

“I think that the Master Plan matters and it needs to be followed,” she said. “The community feels vindicated because it fought all along against the original zoning changes, which itself violated the Master Plan.”

Gruber was referring to the 2016 county zoning cycle which saw Councilwoman Cathy Bevins rezone the subject site from mostly resource conservation and a sliver of manufacturing to a business designation at the front an unbuildable portion at the back labeled as residential. A provision in the zoning code then allowed the business portion to be developed for residential use at the same density as the adjacent residential zone.

Opponents of the project had said it would result in a “residential island in a sea of commercial” uses.

Karceski and Rosenblatt did not respond by press time to multiple requests for comment on the decision.

Gruber said she was waiting to see what the next move would be. Although an appeal had not yet been filed by the developer as of Monday afternoon, they have until May 31 to file one. read more

Reinterment of Sparrows Point Trottens: ‘They are at rest now’

Reinterment of Sparrows Point Trottens: ‘They are at rest now’
Cemetery workers carefully placed the remains into the grave plots in preparation for reburial. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The mortal remains of Dr. John Trotten of Sparrows Point, his wife, Sarah Sollers Trotten, their son, James, and Sarah’s nephew, Thomas Long, were committed to their final resting place at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cemetery on May 1.

A graveside service accompanied the reinterment of the remains of the family members who died between 1804 and 1838 and were originally laid to rest on what was then a bucolic waterfront farm.

Surviving family members could never have envisioned the family plot, 100-plus years in the future, being swallowed up and surrounded by an ever-growing steel manufacturing plant. What was once no doubt a quaint, well-maintained family plot had become an overgrown, isolated patch of weeds and trees that got swampy every time it rained.

Tradepoint Atlantic, the current owner of the Sparrows Point former steel mill property, made the decision to move the graves, based upon the desire to both offer a more respectful resting place for the family members and to have the land available for building.

After following a stringent legal process to gain permission to exhume the remains and reinter them elsewhere, Tradepoint Atlantic officials selected Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk to oversee the exhumation process, bought three plots at Sacred Heart of Jesus and ordered monuments to preserve the history of the family in perpetuity.

As the vaulted remains were transported from Tradepoint to the cemetery on German Hill Road, Aaron Tomarchio, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, described a little bit about the exhumation process.

“As we expected, there were no identifiable human remains,” he told the East County Times. “There was darkened soil at the points where we expect the bodies were originally buried, and it is that dirt that we rebury here today.”

Tradepoint officials had been told by experts that, because of the funeral practices and procedures of the time, there would be no skeletal remains and only darkened soil would indicate where the physical remains had once been.

At Sacred Heart of Jesus, four vaults were gently and respectfully placed within three graves, with John and Sarah being placed together, James in one grave and Thomas in another.

Deacon Bruce Hultquist, director of the cemetery and deacon for the St. Margaret parish, led a memorial service attended by David Klag, a descendant of the Trottens, and Fran Taylor, the president of the North Point Peninsula Council and a member of Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site.

Hultquist blessed the graves and offered Bible readings as he commended the family members to their final resting places.

Klag, a Rosedale resident, got choked up after the service when he thanked Tomarchio for the efforts made by Tradepoint on behalf of his ancestors and family.

“I really appreciate what you did here today for my family,” he said. “It was really something, really above and beyond.”

Klag is the son of the late June Trotton Klag Henneman and the nephew of Patricia Trotton Carter of Perry Hall.

Carter contacted the Times in February after it published a story about Tradepoint’s intentions to relocate the remains. She was unaware of the plans until she was referred to the article by her nephew.

Somewhere along the line, members of Carter’s branch of the Trotten family changed the spelling to Trotton, and Carter said they had also found the spelling Troughton in genealogical searches.

“I don’t know who changed it or when but we have been Trottons with ‘o-n’ for several generations,” Carter said, citing her grandfather Benjamin Trotton, who worked for the old News American newspaper.

Community discussion taking place on social media was largely against the moving of the graves and criticized Tradepoint for its decision. Tomarchio said he thought the community opinion was based upon two fallacies: that actual skeletal remains would be disturbed and that the grave sites were in good shape.

“We believe moving the remains to an actual cemetery will treat the memories of the Trottens more respectfully than where they are now,” Tomarchio said in February. “The graves are overgrown, the stones are broken and crumbling and what is left of them is unreadable.”

The graves were also on private, security-gated land not accessible to the general public.

Carter, as the oldest local surviving descendant of the Trotten family, said she was fine with the relocation but would have liked to see the remains moved to the Todd family plot at Todd’s Inheritance, due to the intermarrying of Todds and Trottens. Mary Trotten Todd, who married Thomas Jefferson Todd in 1833, according to Todd family records, is buried at the historic homestead.

“As long as things are done respectfully, I don’t have a problem with it,” she told the Times.

Carter was unable to attend the graveside service because of health issues and Klag represented the family.

Taylor said he was impressed with the attention to detail and the respect and dignity during the process.

“My biggest takeaway was how touching it was seeing that family member there and what it meant to him,” Taylor said of Klag. “He was really moved and I think it meant a lot to him.”

Klag echoed those sentiments.

“It was great and the kudos really go to Aaron and Amy and everyone else at Tradepoint who worked on this,” Klag said in a phone interview. “They really went out of the way and went way above and beyond what they had to do and my family is thankful.”

Klag witnessed the exhumation of his ancestors and accompanied them from Tradepoint to the cemetery.

“They could have just bulldozed that down there and no one would have known but they did the right thing and did much more than they had to,” he said. “It’s nice to know now that they are in their final resting place and the family can go visit anytime we want.”

Klag said he heard some of the family history when he was younger and “didn’t care.” Now that he is older, he is “very interested” in the family history and is doing his own research to augment that already done by other family members.

As Klag gazed at the monuments after the ceremony was finished, Tomarchio pointed at the markers and said, “We think these will preserve the memories of your family members forever and give you a place to come and visit. They are at rest now.”

Taylor admitted to having mixed emotions when he first heard of Tradepoint’s desire to move the graves, but those emotions changed.

“It happened upon seeing the genuine gratitude and sincere appreciation by the Trotten family member who was in attendance towards TPA for their respectful and solemn management of the ceremony,” Taylor told the Times. “It was personally a very moving experience.”

Klag and a couple of family members, including Carter, attended an open house at Todd’s Inheritance last month and he said that visit just reinvigorated his desire to uncover more family roots.

“With the Trottens being connected to the Todds, it was pretty great meeting the good folks at Todd’s Inheritance,” he said. “It kind of brings everything full circle, you know?

“The whole thing, the way it was handled, the way it was treated, the way they went over and above, it just tickles me inside that in this day and age someone would go to all this trouble. It’s very heartwarming. And we sure do appreciate it.” read more

Royal Farms replacing store with bigger one in Middle River

Royal Farms replacing store with bigger one in Middle River
Image courtesy of Google.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Royal Farms plans to close its convenience store and gas pumps on the northeast corner of Pulaski Highway at Middle River Road and build a new and larger store with gas pumps nearby on the northwest side of the intersection.

The new store will be 4,649 square feet, according to a site plan presented to the county’s Development Review Committee on April 24. The existing store built in 1994 is 2,809 square feet.

Based in Baltimore’s Hampden area, the family-owned company is replacing many of its older locations with larger stores featuring more space for food offerings. It is also expanding into other mid-Atlantic states.

Construction at the Middle River site, which will not include a car wash, is scheduled to begin sometime in 2019, according to William Mortorff, director of commercial construction for Ratcliffe Architects which is designing stores for Royal Farms.

In 2016 the company bought 9500 - 9520 Pulaski Highway for $1.6 million, according to state property records.

The purchase did not include the vacant Gulf gas station and convenience store that remains on the  northwest corner. That property is owned by a group in New York, according to property records.

Two tenants - LeMax/Ram and L.J. Brossoit & Sons - have already moved out of one building that Royal Farms is currently using as a maintenance facility. Two other tenants in the 9520 building - Lee’s Electrical Contracting and Retro Electric Co. - are also expected to relocate.

The site plan shows access from a right-turn-only lane off westbound Pulaski Highway and a second in-and-out driveway to be shared with the neighboring Bowen & Kron excavating company.

Also located at the intersection on the other side of Pulaski Highway is the Silver Moon Diner and Carroll Motor Fuels gas station, which has been in the McKew family since 1974, originally as a Citgo station.

When Royal Farms opened its existing store in 1994, the McKews added a convenience store and later a car wash, said current co-owner Dan McKew.

So far, there has been enough demand for services to support both gas stations at the intersection, and demand is expected to grow due to new residential building in the area, he said.

But he also questioned the Royal Farms investment in an upgraded store, considering that there are four other Royal Farms stores within a two-mile radius of the intersection that could conceivably draw customers from each other.

“This market is flooded with [Royal Farms stores]… It’s like taking money from the left pocket and putting in the right pocket,” he said.

Royal Farms is on schedule to build two new stores in Dundalk - one at Wise Avenue and North Point Boulevard, and another in the planned retail area of Tradepoint Atlantic off Bethlehem Boulevard in Sparrows Point.

It is also building new stores at the northeast corner of White Marsh and Perry Hall boulevards, across from Allison Transmission on Philadelphia Road in White Marsh and on Belair Road in Fullerton on a site previously occupied by a bingo hall. read more

Another industrial warehouse coming to Sparrows Point

Another industrial warehouse coming to Sparrows Point
Image courtesy of Google.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Two companies that provide scaffolding and other temporary equipment for commercial construction projects are planning a new distribution center at the southern end of the Peninsula Expressway in Sparrows Point.

The planned warehouse on part of a wooded site across the expressway from the entrance to Reservoir Road will be shared by Aluma Systems, which has a facility on Van Demen Road near St. Helena in Dundalk, and Safway which has regional locations in Linthicum and Laurel.

A site plan presented to the county’s Development Review Committee on May 1 shows a 79,000-square-foot building to be shared by both companies, with space outside for rows of storage containers.

The plan also shows that Reservoir Road will be extended west off Peninsula Expressway to serve the new building.

The existing east side of Reservoir Road is already home to the Harley-Davidson Driving Academy and a planned Gotham Greens hydroponic greenhouse, which is expected to grow fresh herbs and vegetables for restaurants and grocers in the region.

Affiliated with the international group Brand Energy and Infrastructure Services, Aluma and Safway are among the latest companies to join the growing list of tenants leasing land from Tradepoint Atlantic, which is redeveloping the 3,000-acre former Bethlehem Steel site into a major East Coast logistics and distribution center.

Amazon and Under Armour are building large distribution centers south of Bethlehem Boulevard, and Tradepoint is also developing sections north of Bethlehem Boulevard around the end of the expressway.

Representatives of Aluma Systems and Tradepoint declined to comment about the project on Monday.

It is unclear whether Aluma Systems and Safway will use the new center to just consolidate their Maryland operations, or if they will also be expanding and creating additional jobs.

Hoping to spur job creation, the State of Maryland and Baltimore County have pledged to provide financial assistance to help upgrade and extend water, sewer and road systems at Sparrows Point so that Tradepoint can move faster to prepare land and better compete with other logistics centers on the East Coast.

No final decisions have yet been made about how much public money will be allotted for infrastructure assistance, according to Fronda Cohen, spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development.  read more

League of Women Voters hosts county executive forums

League of Women Voters hosts county executive forums
Del. Pat McDonough (middle) went on the offensive early and often against his primary opponent, Al Redmer (right), during the Republican forum held April 24. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The League of Women Voters recently held two forums for the Baltimore County Executive race, one for the Democratic candidates and one for the Republican  candidates. Both events were held at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex.

While the Democrats differed on some positions, they mostly kept things light. At the Republican forum, however, Delegate Pat McDonough wasted no time before going on the offensive, calling out his opponent Al Redmer, the state’s insurance commissioner and a former state delegate, for what he believes are conflicts of interest.

McDonough used his full two minutes allotted for an opening statement to criticize Redmer for holding onto his insurance commissioner position while running for office. He accused Redmer of essentially “running on the taxpayer’s money” and said that he should “vacate his job.”

Redmer responded to McDonough’s barbs by saying “that’s just Pat being Pat,” a phrase he uttered multiple times throughout the evening.

While McDonough was certainly on the offensive, the two candidates found themselves agreeing on a lot of the big issues.

On crime, Redmer  stated that “we cannot fix any problem in Baltimore County until we get at crime and until we get at education.” He wants to see a return to community policing as opposed to the creation of specialized units, which has been the bread and butter of the police department under current county executive Kevin Kamenetz.

For his part, McDonough stated that he would “never permit this become Baltimore City” and would implement a zero-tolerance policy. He bemoaned the rise of crime in Baltimore County and promised to fight it by implementing policing practices used in New York City.

On education, both men were critical of the direction of Baltimore County Public Schools. McDonough said he was opposed to common core, the STAT program and the appointment of Verletta White. He added that he would like to see more civics classes, drug awareness classes and job training in schools.

Redmer held many of the same views, blasting the school board for what he sees as misplaced priorities.

“We have spent millions and millions of dollars to give every kid a digital device which too often is nothing more than an electronic babysitter,” Redmer said. “At the same time, the county has failed to invest in basic infrastructure.”

While the two men shared similar ideas, their reasoning for why they should be elected differed vastly. Redmer touted his experience in executive positions in government while also playing up his relationship with Governor Larry Hogan.

For McDonough, he feels as though the county is already in a state of disrepair and needs him, lest it fall into complete disarray. “You could offer to give me this job in four years and I wouldn’t take it,” said McDonough, pushing a sense of urgency.

On the Democratic side of things, last week’s forum saw State Senator Jim Brochin, former delegate Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Kevin Marron take the stage. Notably absent from the League of Women Voters event was the only woman vying for the county executive seat, Councilwoman Vicki Almond.

Olszewski got the ball rolling, highlighting the “progressive” beliefs he is championing, including universal pre-kindergarten, free community college and raising the minimum wage.

Marron immediately rebuffed Olszewski, saying raising the minimum wage would be detrimental to those on fixed incomes.

Brochin touted his experience in Annapolis, like leading the Baltimore County Senate Delegation, as the main reason he is most qualified. He also stressed the need to work across the aisle in Baltimore County, something he did in Annapolis.

“Whether you like it or not, you have to figure out how to get along with other legislators, otherwise you won’t get anything passed,” said Brochin.

For his part, Olszewski hit on education as the most pressing concern in the county and highlighted his time spent in the classroom as an educator as what separates him. He also highlighted his time as chair of the Baltimore County House Delegation in Annapolis, saying that while he is the youngest candidate, his time in that position gave him a breadth of experience that is unmatched among his colleagues. He added that he would like to see a $2 billion investment in public education.

Brochin agreed that reinvestment in BCPS was necessary, but focused on shifting funding around. The Towson Democrat told the audience that while the STAT program might be good for older students, it is wasteful spending at the elementary level that could be better used on things like physical facilities.

While Oszewski’s attention is on education, Brochin stated his biggest priority was ending overdevelopment in the county, saying the county is “tearing up more open space than anyone can imagine.” He vowed to end “pay-to-play” practices in the county to keep space open.

“We need more parks, we need more ball fields, we need more recreation centers,” said Brochin. “If we keep developing at the pace we are, neighborhoods will be looking straight onto I-695 almost anywhere you go.”

The primary election set for June 26. read more

Business association to host county executive candidate forum

Business association to host county executive candidate forum
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Millers Island-Edgemere Business Association is set to host a candidate forum on Wednesday, May 16, to help voters get acquainted with candidates running for Baltimore County Executive.

“It’s something of great interest, especially in this district,” said MIEBA President Carl Hobson of the forum. He added that the event will be free to the public so it can benefit voters and help them to make their own choice.

The event will be held at the North Point-Edgemere Volunteer Fire Department hall, 7500 North Point Road in Edgemere, Hobson said. A brief meet and greet will begin at 6:30 p.m. with light refreshments, and the forum itself will start at 7 p.m., lasting until 10 p.m.

“When you have that many people asking questions and giving answers, we have it figured out to where that’s just a minimal amount of time for them,” Hobson said of the length of the event.

Questions to ask the candidates can be sent to MIEBA ahead of time at They will also take written questions from the crowd at the forum, he said, “and we will ask those also if we have time.”

While there are seven candidates officially filed to run for the executive office, the forum will only host five of them: Republicans Pat McDonough and Al Redmer, as well as Democrats Vicki Almond, Jim Brochin and Johnny Olszewski Jr. Hobson said the other two candidates were not included because of when the event was organized.

“We started putting this whole thing together in January before we knew about the other candidates,” he said. But the organization has commitments from  each of the aforementioned candidates that they will be there, he said.

McDonough is a state delegate representing eastern Baltimore and western Harford counties, Redmer is the state’s insurance commissioner, Almond is a county councilwoman representing northwest Baltimore County, Brochin is a state senator representing Towson and northern Baltimore County, and Olszewski is a former state delegate for southeastern Baltimore County.

Also running for the office are Democrat Kevin Marron and unaffiliated candidate Tony Solesky. read more

Steelworkers memorial service honors the dead, fights for the living

Steelworkers memorial service honors the dead, fights for the living
The Rev. Kristi King of New Light Lutheran Church in Dundalk delivered the invocation for the service and prayed for the souls of those lost in industrial accidents. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Wayne Samuels gently trailed his fingertips along a name engraved in the steelworkers memorial at Heritage Park.

“I was less than 20 feet away from him when he died,” he said of Samuel Garcia, a colleague who died in an industrial accident in the 1990s at the Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point plant.

Samuels, who retired from the plant in 2001 after a 44-year career, recalled the gruesome incident with many details too graphic to print. Garcia, a machinist, was repairing a piece of equipment when one of his gloves was snagged by the machine’s keyway (a tiny slot) and pulled him into the machine. There was nothing that could be done to help Garcia and he was dead within seconds, according to Samuels.

On Saturday, April 28 - Workers Memorial Day - Samuels was one of about 45 people who gathered to honor the memories of Garcia and 109 others who lost their lives at Sparrows Point and are memorialized on the three-section black granite monument that first graced the lawn of Steelworkers Local 9477 hall on Dundalk Avenue before being moved to Heritage Park.

“Today, on Workers Memorial Day all across the country, in any place with unions, people are doing exactly what you’re doing today,” said Ernie Grecco, the retired president of Metro Baltimore Council, AFL-CIO. “We gather today to honor those who paid the ultimate price at work and ask that you say a little prayer and remember those listed on this plaque here.”

Across the country, 150 workers die in work-related accidents every day, according to Jim Strong, the assistant director of USW District 8. More than 5,000 workers have died in work-related accidents since 2016 and 50,000 others have been exposed to chemicals and other toxins that will probably ultimately kill them, Strong told the crowd.

“We are here today to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice at their place of work and it shouldn’t have to be that way,” he said. “OSHA laws were created more than 40 years ago and those are laws that protect everyone, not just union members.”

Steve Kotula, one of the event’s masters of ceremonies and a retired steelworker, recalled the days of reactive, as opposed to proactive, safety policies at Beth Steel. Plant officials would wait until someone got injured or killed before implementing better safety policies and procedures, he said.

“Many of these names would not be on this memorial if safety plans had been implemented sooner,” Kotula said.

After better safety rules were implemented, reportable accidents - those which required a trip to the plant’s clinic, decreased drastically.

“Shops would go an entire month without a reportable accident,” he said. “The goal became to have two consecutive months without an accident, but that never happened.”

As folks gazed at the monument remembering their fallen coworkers before the ceremony began, Joe Lawrence, once a safety representative for the plant’s ironworkers, said he unfortunately was more familiar with many of the men who died than he would have preferred, simply because of his role at the plant.

He recalled two particularly gruesome accidents, one of which involved a worker falling into the pickler - a vat of hydrochloric acid - and another in which an electrical explosion fatally injured a man.

“I knew too many of them,” he said. “And I don’t like to tell of my memories because I tear up.”

Lawrence, wearing a hard hat indicative of his safety role at the plant, drew attention to the last name put on the monument on the back.

“He didn’t die at the plant, he took his own life after the plant closed,” he said of Robert A. Jennings. “Bobby was a good man, and he felt like he let his family down after he was laid off; he couldn’t get past it. That plant killed him as much as it killed any of these others.”

The memories of many of the fatal accidents still weigh heavily on the minds of those who witnessed them.

“I was there when many of these poor souls lost their lives,” Kotula said. “I saw coworkers loaded into ambulances and knew it was their last ride out of the plant.”

The Rev. Kristi King, pastor of Dundalk’s New Light Lutheran Church, in her invocation honored “those who have gone before us, those who worked at Sparrows Point and gave their lives.”

“We enjoy on this side of heaven the things their grace built,” she said.

The steelworkers and family members may have gathered to remember those lost on the job, but they remain united to care for and about each other.

Retiree Don Kellner, a Dundalk resident long known for his community pride and activism and involvement in union activities as both a worker and retiree, usually organizes the annual event but could not attend this year because he is hospitalized.

Several speakers spoke of his passion and leadership skills, and even arranged for Kellner to address the crowd by way of mobile phone.

The event was designed to remember those lost at “The Point” but ended up embracing and appreciating the survivors.

“Today, we mourn for the dead and we fight for the living,” Strong said.

As if on cue, local church bells tolled as the ceremony was coming to an end, and the living were invited to enjoy some fellowship over lunch.

And no doubt to also reminisce about their departed friends and colleagues. read more

Communities explore potential for new Rosedale community center

Communities explore potential for new Rosedale community center
Wannetta Thompson (left), director of the Gardenvillage Community Center, explained the limitations of the current center in hopes that people will see the need for a better facility. Carl Jackson (right) hosted the meeting. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Rosedale resident and candidate for public office Carl Jackson hosted a community meeting last Tuesday, April 24, to gather public input on the potential for a new “inter-generational” community center for the Rosedale area.

Jackson is running for a seat in the House of Delegates, but he hosted the meeting more as a concerned citizen than a politician.

The meeting was held in the tiny Gardenvillage Community Center - comprised of two rowhomes connected inside via a doorway through their adjoining wall - partly to showcase how small it is and the need for a more substantial community center to serve the Gardenvillage, Hazelwood Park-East, Hamiltowne and Holland Hills communities.

But while some advocates have identified two sites they feel are suitable for a new community center, government red tape must be navigated and funding in tight budgets is a precious commodity.

Jackson said he remembers having a recreation center in the area where he grew up.

“And this rec. center, we got to do a lot of things. For myself, I learned how to develop photographs in a darkroom,” he said. “I learned how to shoot movies. These are some of the activities that kept me from being on the street and [kept me] doing something constructive with my time.”

He said he used to live in Holland Hills, and there he would see kids get out of school in the afternoon or in the summer months and have nothing to do except roam and play in the streets.

“I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if the kids could have somewhere to go after school where they could have a structured program or get help with their homework,” he said, adding most parents in the area work full time and would be able to know their kids are safe.

Jackson also made note of the large senior population in the area, and he would like to provide them with something to do within walking distance.

“This [would be] a community center that services our seniors and our youth,” he said.

The area’s community outreach police officer, Brian Rawleigh, gave a crime report for the area and specifically emphasized what the Baltimore County Police Department considers “Part 2” crimes - things like assault, drug violations, thefts, destruction of property and other misdemeanors. He said in his 10 years of experience working at Precinct 9/White Marsh, most of the offenses juveniles are charged with fall under Part 2 crime.

Rawleigh pointed out that assaults and “all other” Part 2 crimes (everything except drug offenses) listed in the statistics for the area continued increasing each year between 2014 and 2017.

He said what is not covered in the crime statistics, though, is safety-based incidents in the area.

“Driving through here on my patrol duties, I see kids riding bikes in the middle of the street,” Rawleigh said. “If they had someplace to be they wouldn’t be in the middle of the street where it’s dangerous, if cars aren’t paying attention and stuff like that.”

He also said a community center would be a place police officers could visit to create opportunities for positive interaction with kids.

“It gives us a chance to come to a place to get exposure to the kids or give the kids exposure to police to bridge that gap there,” he explained.

Wannetta Thompson, executive director of the Gardenvillage center, said the community association runs various programs out of the building, such as a military drill team, a step squad, a From Teens To Adults (FTTA) mentoring program, arts-and-crafts-type activities for kids and their ever-popular summer camp.

The summer camp is entering its 21st year, but it is limited to children aged 4 - 11 and can only accommodate 45 of them at a time. Thompson said they end up turning away 15 to 20 kids each year.

Additionally, the age limits mean older kids have even more limited options.

“After [they age out] there’s no place that’s nearby for the kids to go,” she said. “We need something that can help our middle school to high school children, because where do they have to go but in the streets?”

Most attendees at the meeting expressed at least a mild support for the idea, but one expressed concern that not many area kids may end up actually using the center. Another said some existing centers are not active in community engagement and so are not attractive for kids to go to.

But one other attendee pointed to Perry Hall to showcase the effectiveness and heavy usage of community and recreation centers.

“They’ve got all those rec. centers up there, and everytime they build one it fills; it’s 100 percent,” she said. “Those kids are there, they’re using those facilities, they’re playing sports, they’re in there all the time.” She added that people move into those neighborhoods because the centers make them more attractive.

Jim Almon, aide to County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins who represents the area, said there are not many “community centers” in the county as envisioned by the proposal for Rosedale. He said most are separated into recreation centers or senior centers. However, the Parkville Senior Center does have some programs for kids and younger adults.

For recreation purposes, the county’s website lists the Bengies Chase, Berkshire-Eastwood, Colgate, Essex-Stembridge, Gray Charles, Middle River, Overlea-Fullerton, Parkville, Perry Hall, Rosedale and White Marsh recreation councils as serving the Rosedale zip code. But it does not have a comprehensive list of facilities open for public use.

Additionally, the closest senior centers - Rosedale and Overlea-Fullerton - are each more than a mile away as the crow flies and across busy highways.

But Jackson pointed out two undeveloped properties along McCormick Avenue, each less than a mile from the target communities, as potential sites for a new center.

The first, an 11-acre site located at 5501 McCormick Ave. just south of McCormick Elementary School, was originally slated for low-income housing but Bevins rezoned the land to block the project.

Stephen Ferrandi, president and broker at Maryland Land Advisors, said more recently they have marketed the land for a church or similar use. He said the asking price is listed at $1.2 million.

The second property is located farther south on McCormick Avenue, across from the Church of the Anunciation, and is currently owned by Saturn Universal.

That site has already been subdivided and approved for 62 homes to be built, Ferrandi explained, and the asking price is $1.7 million. He said whether the county buys it for a community center or a developer buys it to build out the approved homes, it is his goal to get it under contract for sale this year.

But the new homes would bring more traffic and families to the area, further increasing the need for more recreational space, community members lamented.

Some residents expressed concern with the sites, chiefly that there are no sidewalks leading to them.

Ferrandi noted that sidewalks would be built at least along the property’s frontage if developed. Additionally, sidewalks exist across McCormick from the first site between Hazelwood Avenue to the north and Daybreak Terrace to the south.

Almon said that while Bevins supports a new center for the area, it has been the county’s policy to put such centers in existing county-owned facilities. He said Bevins has had discussions with the administration in recent months to begin identifying properties in the area that could possibly be used for that purpose, and this would be done instead of purchasing land and constructing a new building at a likely much higher cost.

“In doing so we will be working with the state with bond bills for renovations of these existing buildings, if needed, to be a community center,” Almon said.

He said “a few options” for potential sites under those criteria have been discussed, but he was not at liberty to disclose them yet publicly.

“But there are some options now and some facilities we believe might be open in the near future that could be utilized,” he said.

Following the meeting, Jackson hoped to attract volunteers for a committee of interested residents to help explore opportunities for a new center and advocate for the communities as to what they would like to see. He said a new community center could be tailored specifically to the Rosedale community, as others around the county have been.

“It’s just all dependent on what the community needs are,” he said.

“We can either help our children to improve and to set some goals for themselves, to have a dream for themselves, to give them something positive to do,” added Thompson, the Gardenvillage center director, “or we can continually introduce them to the street.” read more

Tradepoint Atlantic industrial site goes green with hydroponics operation

Tradepoint Atlantic industrial site goes green with hydroponics operation
Photo credit: Gotham Greens and Julie McMahon.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Gotham Greens, an expanding urban farming company that grows herbs and salad greens in water, is proposing to build a large commercial greenhouse at the end of Peninsula Expressway in Sparrows Point.

The 3.25-acre undeveloped site owned by Tradepoint Atlantic is at the southeast corner of the expressway and Reservoir Road, next to a paved parking lot used by Harley-Davidson to teach its customers how to ride motorcycles.

The project is not expected to interfere with operations at the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy, according to aid academy manager Jean Neal.

A Middle River resident, Neal said she is glad that Tradepoint’s ongoing redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel mill property will bring with it much-needed jobs.

“I’m always happy to see new businesses come to that area,” she said. “The area has seen a lot of struggling families since [the closings] of Western Electric, General Motors and Bethlehem Steel.”

Press contacts for Tradepoint Atlantic and Gotham Greens declined last week to discuss the proposed greenhouse.

However, records indicate the project is working its way through the development review process following the weekly meeting of Baltimore County’s Development Review Committee on April 24 in Towson.

A preliminary site plan presented at the meeting showed the outlines of a 95,702-square-foot building - covering about two acres - on an undeveloped site off Reservoir Road.

Department representatives supported granting an allowed exemption that enables development of warehouses, distribution centers and other commercial and industrial projects without having to hold public hearings.

Founded in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2009, Gotham Greens grows vegetables and herbs for restaurants, grocers, institutions and chains such as Target and Whole Foods, a company recently acquired by Amazon.

The company opened its first hydroponic greenhouse on the roof of a former bowling alley in Brooklyn in 2011, according to its website.

Three years later it opened another greenhouse in Brooklyn on top of a Whole Foods market, which was followed by a rooftop greenhouse in Queens.

In 2015 the company expanded into the Chicago market by opening a greenhouse atop a recently built Method Products factory that makes environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products.

Gotham Greens is also planning a new freestanding 105,000-square-foot greenhouse in Chicago near a  recently opened Whole Foods distribution center, according to a Feb. 7 article in the Chicago Tribune.

The $12.5 million construction project is expected to generate 70 construction jobs and 60 permanent jobs, according to the story.

Gotham Greens grows plants in climate-controlled buildings that enable it to customize nutrients for different types of plants, which range from herbs such as basil to leafy greens such as kale, lettuce and bok choy.

The growing process also recycles water, uses solar power and avoids the use of pesticides, according to the company. read more

Health care advocates praise new ‘gag rule’ prohibition, push for national effort

Health care advocates praise new ‘gag rule’ prohibition, push for national effort
Sen. Klausmeier (center, teal), health care advocates and other bill sponsors attended as Gov. Hogan signed Bromwell and her bills into law. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition and other Maryland health leaders were set to hold an event Thursday, May 3, to highlight Maryland’s new law prohibiting so-called pharmacy “gag rules” and thank the lawmakers who sponsored the legislation.

State Senator Kathy Klausmeier and Delegate Eric Bromwell, both Perry Hall Democrats, each sponsored bills in this year’s General Assembly session to outlaw the practice of pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs) including gag clauses in their contracts with pharmacies to keep them from telling customers about the lowest price of some drugs.

When such clauses are in effect, pharmacists are unable to tell customers if the cash price of their prescription drugs is actually lower than their insurance copay unless the customer asked, for instance.

“We think that it happens in about 40 percent of the times that you go to a pharmacy, you will essentially end up paying more if you use your [insurance] card as opposed to using cash for certain types of generic drugs,” said Prof. Gerard Anderson with the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. He noted that those typically affected are less-expensive generic drugs.

Klausmeier’s and Bromwell’s bills, which were identical, each passed unanimously through both the Senate and House of Delegates and were signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan. With that passage, Maryland became the 11th state to enact such a law.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Health Care For All! Coalition, called the gag rules a “really anti-consumer tactic of preventing people from knowing what their lowest prices are for drugs” and praised the legislators’ leadership in sponsoring bills to ban the practice.

PBM representatives said during bill hearings that their members in Maryland do not engage in the practice and, therefore, they did not oppose the ban.

“Well we want to make sure they don’t do it,” DeMarco told the East County Times. “We just know it’s there and we don’t want it to happen in Maryland.

“We think every state in the country and the federal government should do the same thing,” he added.

Maryland Congressmen Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes were scheduled to join in the praise at Thursday’s event, as well as express their support for a measure to outlaw the gag rules nationally.

“This measure puts Maryland in the forefront of making prescription drugs more affordable,” said Cummings in a statement. “I urge other states and the federal government to follow Maryland’s lead so that consumers can know the least expensive way that they can purchase the drugs they need. I will continue to demand that the U.S. Congress considers legislation that will address the life-saving issue of prescription drug affordability.”

Investigating the rising drug prices over the past several years has been a top priority for Cummings, according to his press secretary.

Sarbanes, whose Third District reaches into parts of Parkville, Perry Hall and Nottingham, joined in the call for a national gag rule ban.

“It’s truly inspiring to see Maryland  at the forefront of state-led efforts to lower prescription drug costs,” he said in a statement. “The nation needs to follow Maryland’s lead and make life-saving medication more affordable for hardworking Americans.”

Neither Cummings nor Sarbanes has yet introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, but the U.S. Senate is currently considering two bills on the issue, according to Anderson. However, those bills are being refined, he said.

Alongside Maryland, similar bills have been enacted in Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Connecticut, Georgia, North Dakota, North Carolina, Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Virginia and Nevada. And 21 other states currently have such measures pending in their legislatures.

“We commend Senator Klausmeier and Delegate Bromwell for their leadership on this issue,” DeMarco said. “Thanks to them, Marylanders can know that they will not be kept from critically needed information about how they can best afford the drugs they need.” read more

Medical marijuana store opens in Joppa, attracts dozens of visitors

Medical marijuana store opens in Joppa, attracts dozens of visitors
The new Rise dispensary in Joppa is managed by Green Thumb Industries which also has stores in Bethesda and Silver Spring. Photo by Virginia Terhune.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Retired electronics foreman Frank Brocato spent 31 years working at Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point, and now he is enjoying life just across the Baltimore-Harford county line in Joppa.

Life is good, he said, but sometimes he has trouble working around the house due to painful arthritis in his knees, shoulders and neck.

Thanks to Maryland’s new medical marijuana law, he has visited dispensaries in Dundalk, Ellicott City and Perryville, but now has found one closer to home.

“This is the closest one,” said Brocato, who stopped by the  new Rise medical marijuana dispensary at 702 Pulaski Highway in Joppa, which opened Friday, April 27.

Brocato bought 20 pills to take as needed for the arthritis pain. The packet cost $21, but he paid $18 thanks to his service in the Air Force and a discount offered to veterans.

Because of the pills and a cannabis ointment that he sometimes rubs onto his knees, he is able to move around more freely with less pain.

“It enables me to do things like cut trees and mow the lawn,” Brocato said. “I couldn’t do it otherwise.”

The new Rise retail dispensary is one of two allowed in legislative District 7, which straddles the Baltimore-Harford county line and runs from the Middle River waterfront to the Pennsylvania border.

Another facility for the district was pre-approved by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission for a building on Ebenezer Road just west of Pulaski Highway in White Marsh, but it failed to win approval for a needed zoning special exception for the site from a Baltimore County administrative law judge and has not moved forward. As a result, the district’s second medical cannabis facility, Oceans Dispensary, is slated to open in a strip outside the Carroll Island Shopping Center in Middle River.

The new Joppa dispensary is managed and partly owned by Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries, which also operates stores in Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Dozens of customers visited the Rise store on opening day Friday to ask about a wide range of products ranging from pills to ointments, creams, oils and vapor cartridges.

Like most dispensaries, Rise takes only cash for products, as banks and credit cards are reluctant to get involved in transactions involving cannabis. That is because although medical marijuana is legal in Maryland and other states, it is still considered illegal by the federal government.

The Rise store in Joppa employs 10 people, including assistant manager Eric Libby, who knows firsthand the benefits of medical marijuana.

He uses it himself to relieve pain from an injured finger and said his wife benefited from it after neck surgery.

Libby said many customers come to dispensaries looking for alternatives to potentially addictive opioid drugs.

He also said they benefit from buying it in stores that are regulated by the commission.

“A lot of times people don’t really know what they’re getting,” said Libby about the health risks involved in buying marijuana illegally.

For more information, visit and the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission website at read more

County Executive candidates take the stage at chamber forum

County Executive candidates take the stage at chamber forum
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

With primary season upon us, candidates for Baltimore County Executive have been partaking in forums across the county, in an effort to get their message out to voters. On Wednesday, April 25, area chambers of commerce collaborated to host all seven candidates at a forum in Hunt Valley.

While the event showed the different styles and ideologies of the candidates, almost all of the candidates could agree on what the biggest issues are this election - education, economic development and safety.

Hosted by business leaders and moderated by the Baltimore Business Journal, conversation naturally shifted towards economic development throughout the county. Johnny Olszewski, Jr. (D) was the first to appeal to the sensibilities of the audience, telling the crowd that “an Olszewski administration will bring all of you into the fold because I believe the strongest administration will reflect the full diversity of the county, including the business community.”

County Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D) told the audience that she wanted to “make small business my priority,” referring to small business as the backbone of the economy. She promised to create a business roundtable and also pushed for redevelopment of existing areas, citing the success of Foundry Row in Owings Mills. She pointed to Route 43 as an area that could be utilized in similar fashion.

Delegate Pat McDonough (R) and Senator Jim Brochin (D) both cited their business-friendly approach in the General Assembly, with Brochin propping up past votes against tax increases like the gas tax and sales tax. He also touted his efforts to bring a Guinness brewery to Baltimore County.

McDonough cited his business rating as a delegate while noting that he, as a small business owner himself, understands the problems businesses face. He also promised to appoint the “greatest economic commission” that the county has ever seen.

Al Redmer (R), McDonough’s primary opponent, cited crime, education and congestion as his top three priorities, but tied those issues, particularly crime, into job growth.

“Our property values are affected by crime, education and congestion, and that equates directly to our revenues. We’re never going to see the job growth and economic development in Baltimore County that we should see unless we get a handle on crime and deteriorating education,” Redmer said.

Olszewski, a former educator, agreed with Redmer’s take that these issues are interrelated, telling the audience that investment in education is what “drives people, whether it’s moving to Baltimore County or from Baltimore County.”

Forums can often take a slide toward mudslinging, but last week’s event saw the candidates refrain from launching attacks against each other, opting instead to take aim at current County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Kamenetz is term-limited and currently seeking the Democratic nomination for the gubernatorial race.

“I believe we are moving in the wrong direction,” said McDonough. He told the crowd that he often asks people if the county is better off after eight years of Kamenetz in charge, and whether they are hopeful for the future. The answer, according to McDonough, is almost always one of discontent.

Brochin and Olszewski both knocked the current administration for lack of transparency, with both promising to do more to keep their constituencies informed. Almond and Redmer both contended that the culture of county government needs an overhaul, something Almond has stated repeatedly during her time on the campaign trail.

“I can assure you that the attitude and atmosphere in Baltimore County does indeed need to be different,” she said.

Brochin agreed, saying that the culture created under Kamenetz is “detrimental to business.”

Tony Solesky (R) acknowledged that his opponents had solid backgrounds and ideas but oppugned their understanding of the position.

“This is a fiduciary position,” said Solesky. He stated that the real power of the county executive is that they get to appoint department heads as well as hundreds of people to dozens of commissions.

Brochin and Kevin Marron (D) both lamented what Brochin referred to as “corporate welfare,” with Brochin citing the $43 million subsidies given to the Towson Row project and Marron calling into question the different breaks given to Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point.

Olszewski, a Dundalk native, disagreed with Marron on Tradepoint, saying that the development seen atSparrows Point is exactly what the county needs.

“I actually think what we’re doing at Tradepoint Atlantic is transformational,” said Olszewski. “It will be the economic epicenter not just of Baltimore County, but for Maryland and potentially the mid-Atlantic region. We need more of that, we need more partnerships...with our business community.”

Redmer maintained that Baltimore County would struggle to attract business as long as they do not have a long-term plan. He pointed to the underwhelming results of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure program, which promised to bring jobs to the area in 2005, as evidence of Baltimore County’s failure to enact a multi-year budget.

McDonough rebuffed Redmer’s calls for a multi-year budget, saying the one-year budget submitted annually could not be trusted. He also contended that Baltimore County could be ruined in a few years, saying that he could be offered the position four years from now and he would not take it.

On education, all agreed that trade opportunities need to be expanded in Baltimore County. That is essentially where the similarities ended, however.

McDonough stated that he would have a different approach to education than past county executives, saying he will be “fully involved in the education system.” He pledged to reduce the STAT program, which sees laptops and tablets distributed to Baltimore County Public School students, and use that money to help fund the construction of three new high schools. He also added that he would not support newly appointed BCPS Superintendent Verletta White.

Brochin somewhat agreed with McDonough’s position on White, noting that she would not have been his top choice to lead the school system. But he acknowledged that, for better or worse, the school board appointed her and, if elected, he would support her as well.

Olszewski agreed with McDonough on the STAT program, telling the audience that the “basic needs of the children” need to be met first before they get bogged down in programs like STAT. He promised that if elected he would order an audit of BCPS to figure out where there was waste and reinvest that money elsewhere.

Almond noted that the county executive does not have control over the school system, so working in close collaboration with the school board would be a top priority. She noted the difficulty in finding funding but pointed to her successful push to implement a hotel tax at the county level that will provide tourism monies as an analog for what is needed to boost education spending. read more

Prince of Peace to celebrate 90 years of serving ‘all of God’s people’

Prince of Peace to celebrate 90 years of serving ‘all of God’s people’
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church will celebrate 90 years of “serving God and God’s people” with a special worship service at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 6.

The anniversary celebration will feature guest preacher Rev. Bill Gohl, Bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod. All current and former members of the church are encouraged to attend.

“We are blessed to serve God and we are blessed to be in Rosedale,” Rev. Matt Fuhrman said of the Philadelphia Road church that was founded in 1928. “And it is our mission to serve all of God’s people; we welcome all people here.”

The steadfast church has witnessed many of the changes the community has experienced since the 1920s, Fuhrman said. When the church first opened, much of Rosedale was farm land, the Great Depression had not yet taken root and the thought of World War II was unfathomable.

“We have older members who remember the farming community and the trolley that went into the city,” Fuhrman said. “Now Rosedale is more of an urban community.”

The church has about 450 members “on the books” and about 180 people worship at four different services held each week, according to the pastor.

Prince of Peace, at 8212 Philadelphia Road, offers two traditional services and one contemporary service each Sunday, and they recently started an informal service with communion on Wednesday evenings.

The church gained a second pastor in July 2017 with the hiring “straight from the seminary” of Micah Krey and, in keeping with the “hallmark of Lutheran liturgy,” lay leadership is encouraged and utilized.

“We really do welcome all people here,” Fuhrman said. “We have many outreach ministries to offer something for everyone.”

On the second Saturday of each month, the church hosts a service in Tamel, an Indian language, which was the idea of two families that belong to Prince of Peace. The service draws native speakers of Tamel from across the Baltimore and Washington regions.

“Between Baltimore and Washington, there’s a Tamel service every Saturday if you know where to go,” Fuhrman said. “Prince of Peace picked up the second Saturday to fill that need.”

In keeping with serving all of God’s people, the church offers a special needs Sunday school class; child care through an in-house ministry; and opens its doors to many outside groups, including 12-step programs and a theater group that has produced 15 shows so far.

Church member Crystal Holston, who has helped organize the event and research church history, said the 90th anniversary gathering is a practice run for the centennial celebration 10 years from now.

Committee members have found old photo albums with people in them from over the years, according to Holston, and they are trying to identify as many of them as possible.

“We really do consider this a practice run for our 100th anniversary,” she said. read more

Holly Hill, LLW foundation seek donations for damaged veterans memorial

Holly Hill, LLW foundation seek donations for damaged veterans memorial
The stone slab in the outer circle directly left/north of the Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens was toppled by the March 2 wind storm. A top corner of the slab broke off on impact, meaning the monument could not be repaired. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The massive regional wind storm that hit the Mid-Atlantic states nearly two months ago took down trees, damaged roofs and caused widespread power outages across a 10-state area. But another, less likely victim of the wild weather was unique to eastern Baltimore County.

The “bomb cyclone” that hit the area on March 2 and produced wind gusts up to 70 mph was somehow able to topple one of the nearly 2,400-pound stone monoliths that make up the Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens in Middle River. The weight of the stone even bent the one-inch steel rods inside it which held it stable.

The stone that fell, positioned directly to the left - or north - of the monument’s center, had the Star Spangled Banner engraved into it, along with a well-known quote from John F. Kennedy and the names of more than 140 eastern Baltimore County residents who have honorably served in the U.S. military.

Tony DeRuggerio, president of the monument’s governing foundation, said the base of that piece of the memorial is repairable, but the stone slab itself must be replaced.

“The base is okay, but what happened was the stone cracked on the top and it can’t be repaired,” he said.

DeRuggerio said he has ordered a replacement stone, but the cost for all the work needed on the monument amounts to nearly $13,000.

In addition to the replacement slab, the 144 names must be re-engraved, the cracked sidewalk where the stone hit must be repaired and the monument’s base must be re-leveled, all of which contribute to the cost, DeRuggerio said.

“The base did not get hurt, but it tilted it,” he said. “And apparently the base is not anchored to the concrete.”

He noted, though, that engraving the names will be the most costly aspect of the repair.

Unfortunately, the monument was not insured against “acts of God,” according to DeRuggerio.

“I was under the impression that Holly Hill had insurance on the stone, but not on the names,” he said. “It would always be us that would have to put the names back on if anything happened to the stones.

“But investigating it, we couldn’t find any proof of insurance with Holly Hill,” he said.

The foundation president explained that any insurance coverage provided to them through Holly Hill would only cover damage done by people. For instance, if a maintenance worker somehow hit and damaged the monument with a lawnmower, it would be covered, he said.

While the foundation must cover the cost of the new 2,360-pound granite slab on their own, they have started a GoFundMe page with the hope that the community will help to reimburse them. However, the effort which was started on April 3 had only garnered $330 toward its $20,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon.

Holly Hill manager Dawn Quinlin had personally donated $100 to the effort, but DeRuggerio said Holly Hill had not yet agreed on any contribution.

The fundraising page can be found at by searching for “Veterans Monument Destroyed.” Checks or money orders can also be sent to Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans at 346 Oberle Ave., Essex, MD 21221. All donations are tax deductible.

The plan, according to DeRuggerio, is to have all the names from the fallen stone etched into one of the other stones in the memorial’s outer circle which do not currently have any names on them.

“And when the new stone gets in, we’ll just put it in and take the old one away,” he said.

The new engravings, he said, will be done before Memorial Day.

The Memorial Day service held at the monument is one of its most well-attended events.

However, DeRuggerio said the merchant from which he ordered the new stone may not have it ready for up to six months, meaning they may not have it until October.

In the meantime, the foundation and Holly Hill will return the damaged stone to its upright position and have it on display on Memorial Day.

“We’re hoping to have the whole thing ready before Veterans Day,” he said. read more

Scholars program puts Patapsco High student one step closer to Ivy league dream

Scholars program puts Patapsco High student one step closer to Ivy league dream
Yara Daraiseh. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Marge Neal -

It seems all things really do happen for a reason.

Nearly three weeks ago, Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts junior Yara Daraiseh was in the running to be named the student representative on the Baltimore County Board of Education. One of two finalists for the honor, she lost the election held in a student leader forum April 6.

Last week, the aspiring lawyer found out she is one of 100 students selected nationally for the prestigious LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America) Scholars program which kicks off with a seven-week residential mentoring session at Princeton University this summer.

“It’s almost a good thing I didn’t get elected because I would have missed the first couple of meetings,” Daraiseh told the East County Times. “And this program is going to be much more important to me in regard to my college plans.”

It has been a lifelong dream of Daraiseh’s to attend an Ivy League school. Natives of Jordan, her parents left lucrative professional careers in their homeland to move to the United States so their only child would have more opportunities for success - specifically, better education choices.

Once an agricultural engineer in Jordan, Omar Daraiseh now works two part-time jobs while attending Howard Community College, where he is studying radiology technology. Aisheh Toubat, Yara’s mother, was a high school principal in Jordan but is not certified to teach here.

“They made great sacrifices to come here, just to give me the chance to make something of myself, to do big things,” Yara said. “I have no intention of letting them down.”

Being named one of this year’s LEDA participants is a big step toward accomplishing the goals of being accepted at an Ivy league school and making her parents proud of her, she said. Her parents’ great personal sacrifices will not be wasted, if she has anything to do with it.

The LEDA Scholars program’s mission is to diversify the nation’s most selective colleges and universities by reaching out to bright, accomplished students who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged households, according to the organization’s website.

The average family income of selected students is about $35,000, according to Cristina Morais, LEDA’s senior director of development and external relations.

“Socioeconomic status is the one main stated criteria but we look at students holisitically,” she told the Times. “We’re looking for leadership potential and experience, and most of our scholars are already in leadership positions at their schools.”

LEDA strives to encourage economically disadvantaged students to dream big about the colleges they apply to and gives them the mentoring support they need for the application process and beyond, according to Morais.

The program’s seven-week course, which runs from June 16 to Aug. 4 at Princeton University, will include training in leadership and public speaking techniques while giving the students the opportunity to participate in role playing, debates and other activities designed to grow confidence and leadership abilities. All classes and programs will be led by doctorate-level professors, according to Morais.

The students will get a head start on the college experience by living in dorms, eating meals together in main dining halls and socializing together.

Afterward, mentors - including former LEDA scholars and staff members - stay in communication with participants and follow them all through their college application process and undergraduate experience, Morais said. Particular mentoring attention is showered upon freshmen to ensure they make the transition from high school to college successfully.

Daraiseh is excited about being selected for the obvious reasons, but also for reasons far more private.

She is being raised in a traditional Muslim home and has been fighting some of the home-country traditions that she finds contradictory to the sacrifices her parents made to come to the U.S.

“My parents are traditional about some things and not traditional about others,” the star student said. “The biggest thing we’ve argued about is that my parents want me to live at home and go to a school that I can commute to because in the Muslim faith, a girl doesn’t move out of the family home until she gets married.”

Many arguments that “got ugly and didn’t end well” ensued over the topic of where to attend college, with Daraiseh pointing out to her parents the irony that they moved half-way around the world to give their daughter the best of opportunities and now want to limit those opportunities to schools within 45 minutes of home.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” she said. “What was the point of uprooting the family and giving up their careers if they are then going to put so many limitations on my choices?”

She now has her parents’ blessings to attend the Princeton program because they realize the doors that will open.

“Being accepted by LEDA has allowed me to reach a common ground with my parents,” she said. “This is making them come around to the idea of me moving away to go to college.”

Attending an Ivy League school has been a dream of Daraiseh’s since early elementary school, she said. Her life goal is to become a lawyer and Princeton, known for its top-notch law program, is her first choice, with Georgetown her second choice - at the moment.

While the straight-A student downplays her chances of being accepted at Princeton, Sandy Skordalas, chairperson of Patapsco’s social studies department, begs to differ.

“She’s number one in her class right now,” Skordalas said. “And she’s taken as many advanced placement classes as possible - she carries a tough load of classes and she excels in them all.”

On the traditional scale, Daraiseh has a perfect 4.0 average. When weighted to take into account the rigor of advanced placement and gifted and talented courses, her cumulative grade-point average since ninth grade is 5.56 and her current, junior-year GPA is 5.63.

Acknowledging the school commitments she has made, she admitted to having a recent “meltdown” after all the stress got to her. “I’m taking five AP classes, I’m involved in after-school activities, I manage the lacrosse team, I was going through the student member of the board process and the LEDA process at the same time,” she said. “I had a meltdown but [teacher Andrew] Mininsky talked me through it.”

She refers to Skordalas and Mininsky as her “school parents” and said their mentoring has been invaluable throughout her high school years.

So thanks to the LEDA Scholars program, Daraiseh is one step closer to achieving the dream of attending an Ivy League school. The program particularly encourages participants to apply to elite schools, which tend to be less diversified and also have the bigger endowments, which translates to more resources available to students in financial need, according to Morais.

When Daraiseh comes home at the end of the summer program, she will be armed with a list of her dream schools and a network of mentors to help her through the application process.

And in addition to LEDA picking up the entire tab of the summer program, including housing, food, entertainment and transportation to and from Princeton, the organization also picks up college application fees, according to Skordalas.

“For many of these kids, the application fees alone keep them from applying to many top schools, and LEDA recognizes that,” she said. “That’s one more barrier removed for these kids who don’t have the resources at home.”

While Skordalas is confident about Daraiseh’s Ivy League chances, the student chooses to be more humble.

“I have high standards but low expectations,” she said with a broad smile. “That way, I don’t get disappointed.”

Skordalas does not believe there will be any disappointment in Daraiseh’s future.

“Remember her name,” the teacher advised. “You’re going to be hearing it a lot in the future.” read more

Spring/summer midge eradication treatments begin on Back River

Spring/summer midge eradication treatments begin on Back River
The BRRC volunteered the use of their “Trash Wagon” boat to push the larvacide treatment apparatus. The Bti slurry is injected on the bottom via the boom at the front. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources resumed Monday, April 23, their combined effort to control the amount of midges in and around Back River.

Midges are non-biting, mosquito-like insects present in numbers considered to be beyond nuisance-level on and around the river due to excess nutrients in the mud on which they feed. The nutrients are believed to be a result of the last century of operation of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).

Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order early last year allocating about $330,000 to a midge eradication pilot program because of the effect the swarms of midges have had on local residents and businesses.

In September 2017, MDA and DNR, with assistance from Back River Restoration Committee volunteers, carried out the first of five scheduled treatments under the program by applying a larvacide to the river which kills the larvae of midges and other nuisance insects like mosquitoes and black flies. The larvacide consists of a naturally-occurring bacteria, known as Bti, which is only harmful to those larvae and does not affect humans or other animals or fish.

Following the treatment that began Monday, the remaining three treatments will be carried out every three to four weeks through the end of June, according to Tom Parham, director of Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment for DNR. He said the treatments take about three days each.

Midges have for years presented a nuisance for residents and business owners around the river, particularly restaurants and marinas.

“The folks around here are having issues with the adult midges sticking to boats, affecting local businesses and things like that,” Parham said.

The 260-acre treatment area encompasses roughly the entire width of the river between Weaver’s Marina in Essex and the WWTP on the other side. Parham said the area was chosen following extensive sampling of midge larvae concentrations all over Back River.

“We chose an area that had generally high concentrations of these larvae. And since this seemed to be the area that we were having the most complaints, we set the [target] right outside [Weaver’s Marina],” he said. “We know there’s midge larvae all over this place, there’s no doubt about that.”

The larvacide is injected into the water as a slurry, deposited just above the bottom where the midge larvae live, Parham explained. The larvae eat the material and become infected with the Bti bacteria.

Parham and Brian Prendergast, the mosquito control program manager for MDA, said the Bti only lasts in the water for one to two days.

“What happens is [the midge larvae] are going to feed on it pretty quickly,” Parham said. “And then, because the tide is moving it around, it may be that the material is moved down-tide.”

He noted that midge larvae only live in low-salinity water, so they would not be found closer to the mouth of the river and the Bti would have less effect there.

“The hope is, we spray this stuff and kill all of the larvae that are in the river right now,” Prendergast added, referring to the target area. “And then two or three days from now there will be more eggs that will start to hatch - those ones will survive.”

The project also includes sampling of larvae in a control area, which is not being treated, to compare and gauge the effectiveness of the treatments, Parham said. And since it is the adult midges that create the nuisance, DNR and MDA will also take samples of those present around the shorelines to figure out just how dense they are and the areas where they are impacting people most.

“Because that’s what it’s all about, really, minimizing the impact on people,” he said.

“Sometimes within the river system itself there could be a big decline,” Parham said referencing the control area. “We want to make sure we can attribute any decline to the Bti.”

In order for midges to be considered at nuisance levels under state regulations, there must be at least 500 midge larvae per square meter of the river bottom. But sampling of Back River showed many areas to have more than double that amount.

“So if there are 500 to 1,000 in that little area, you can imagine over 260 acres the concentrations we’re looking at,” Parham said.

He noted that the midge “hot spots” on the river are not all within the treatment area, and there are some areas, such as in some of the creeks, that are too shallow for the boat and treatment apparatus to get to.

But Prendergast emphasized that this is a pilot project.

“So we’re treating the 260 acres, and if it works then that’s kind of on the [state] legislature as to whether they want to do a larger area or not,” he said regarding the funding for additional future treatments. “But we’ve got a pretty good idea that it’s going to work.”

Parham added, “We’re not trying to control midges in the whole river. We’re just trying to show how well this works.”

Parham said there have not yet been a lot of complaints about midges this season, but there is a lot of evidence that they are beginning to be more active.

“This is usually the time when we would hear about it, right around April,” he said.

The larval “husks” could be seen Monday floating on the water’s surface after the adult midges had left the water. And stains were present on boats and the light-colored surfaces of buildings and other objects where the midges have landed.

“This is what bothers the people,” Parham said. “As they dry [on these surfaces] they stain it. Lots of times when the midges come off, they need some place to dry their wings. So you’ll see them along the shorelines.”

He shook some bushes along the shoreline at Weaver’s to stir up midges and demonstrate that they are out.

Midges are a natural part of the ecosystem in the area, acting as a food source for larger creatures like fish and birds. But the shear numbers seen around Back River create a nuisance with restaurants and business owners posting photos or videos online showing buildings that appear black because they are covered with midges.

Parham said as the weather gets warmer there will be more midges and they will grow faster. DNR will also be studying the water temperature to find out what is optimal for the bugs.

“Hopefully we’re out here before they are,” Prendergast said. “If there were already midges flying around then that would mean we’re too late.” read more

‘Accidental activist’ Rowe seeks seat on Board of Education

‘Accidental activist’ Rowe seeks seat on Board of Education
(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Greater Hillendale resident Lily Rowe became an advocate for school issues in her community gradually and accidentally.

Now she has stepped up her advocacy game by quite deliberately filing to run for the Baltimore County Board of Education, representing the Sixth Councilmanic District.

“I first got involved by advocating for magnet programs,” Rowe recalled of her early days of activism. “Then I got involved when they wanted to build a salt dome near Halstead Academy, which would have caused environmental issues, and then I got involved in the air-conditioning debacle.”

The accidental activist with a “three-for-three” record accepted a three-year appointment to the Central Area Education Advisory Committee, a group that serves and advises the Board of Education on more hyper-local issues, concerns and projects.

Rowe has no shortage of ideas for how to improve the school system, with suggestions ranging from strengthening the budgetary powers of the Baltimore County Council to holding the system responsible for the physical condition of neglected and poorly maintained school buildings.

With regard to the decision-making process for new school construction and major renovations, Rowe would like to see implementation of a countywide equity plan, with a priority list established after all school buildings are rated and evaluated based upon the same list of standards and criteria.

“The schools should all be evaluated against the same checklist and then the priority list should be established,” she said. “That way, everyone would know exactly where their school stands and they could watch them move up the list as others were taken care of.”

Rowe believes the County Council should have the ability to restore budget cuts made by the county executive.

“The politics that’s involved in these decisions need to be taken out of the process,” she said. “Decisions shouldn’t be made based on favors promised or votes being chased.”

The western New York native has a degree in political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has lived in Greater Hillendale for 12 years and has three children in Baltimore County Public Schools. Her youngest two attend Cromwell Valley Elementary Magnet School and her oldest is in middle school at Loch Raven Technical Academy.

She first got involved in school concerns because of issues in her neighborhood, but now she wants to work on bigger-picture items that affect the entire county.

She finds it “totally unacceptable” that school officials are not legally held responsible for the physical condition of school buildings.

“There is no sort of code enforcement for our schools,” she said. “Schools have mold, roaches, leaking roofs and water that no one can drink and there is no government entity charged with ensuring these problems are taken care of.”

Citing Baltimore County’s Code Enforcement division that holds residents and business owners responsible for their properties, Rowe said she would like to see a code enforcement division that could have legal recourse regarding school building issues.

“We hold businesses, renters, homeowners, day care centers and property owners accountable for code violations but not schools,” she said. “Why is that? How is that possible?”

She has witnessed “pregnant teachers passing out and students puking in buckets” because of excessive heat in schools without air conditioning. She is embarrassed by the recent, highly publicized corruption cases of former Superintendent Dallas Dance and Robert J. Barrett, a former executive officer in the school system’s community and government relations office. Dance was sentenced last week to six months in jail for perjury and Barrett, as a result of a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of filing a false tax return resulting from him allegedly taking bribes from contractors.

“I’m really tired of seeing the lack of ethics and transparency that has become the norm for this board and school system,” Rowe said. “For the past five or six years, the Board of Education has whittled down a lot of its responsibilities by making policies as minimal as possible and turning over most of the responsibility to the superintendent - and that’s just unacceptable.”

Rowe uses the phrase “It’s a hot mess” often in describing the condition of the school system. Early last week, before the school board voted to appoint interim superintendent Verletta White as the permanent successor to Dance, Rowe was not happy with the search process - or lack thereof.

In one night, the board voted to both hire a consulting firm to conduct the search for a permanent superintendent, and tabled a last minute motion to appoint White as the permanent replacement.

“This current board has had 13 months to carry out this search and they waited until  11 weeks out, when they don’t have the time to carry out perhaps the most important decision they will ever make.”

Rowe said she has nothing against White, but believes the decision should not have been simply “Verletta White or not Verletta White."

“We should allow people to apply for this job and then choose the best person for the job,” she said. “Maybe that would  have been White, but maybe not.”

Rowe was also concerned the search process was put off so long that all of this year’s top candidates would have already been offered positions. And, she believes, the high-profile corruption, coupled with a new board being seated in December, might have discouraged top candidates from applying in the first place.

When the board voted to appoint White as the permanent top administrator, Rowe believes that gives the perception of yet another no-bid contract being awarded.

“I feel that, just like any contract, it should have been competitive,” she said of the process. “I don’t think it’s fair to have a position of this caliber and not open it up to everyone who was interested in the job.”

Even if it was too late to do a national search and board members preferred to promote someone from in-house, all qualified employees should have had the chance to apply, Rowe believes.

“The board shirked its responsibility by just handing the job to White,” Rowe said. “Maybe she would have been the person hired after a search, but the process needed to be carried out and candidates needed to be vetted and compared to each other and that didn’t happen.”

Rowe, who said she is a “very part-time travel agent,” said she already devotes 20-30 hours a week advocating for the school system, and has been maintaining that schedule for four or five years.

She has been spending the bulk of that time “working to get bad ideas killed” and looks forward to sitting on the board and being able to advocate for good ideas and positive change.

“There is plenty of room for improvement across a broad spectrum to make our schools better for our children and more comfortable and safe for our children,” she said. “And I want to be part of that process.” read more

Former BCPS superintendent Dallas Dance sentenced to six months for perjury

Former BCPS superintendent Dallas Dance sentenced to six months for perjury
(Updated 4/20/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Former Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas Dance will serve six months at Baltimore County Detention Center, Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Cox ruled on Friday morning, April 20.

Dance was sentenced to five years with all but six months suspended, as well as 700 hours of community service and two years probation. He pleaded guilty on March 8 to four counts of perjury for failing to disclose income for consulting work he did with SUPES Academy, a now-defunct Chicago-based company that trained school administrators.

In his first public statement about the charges, Dance told the court that he was “embarrassed” and “truly remorseful.”

“I’m ashamed of myself,” said Dance. “That’s the remorse I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.”

Dance was not sentenced to the 18 months in jail Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt sought, but the six-month jail sentence pleased the prosecution.

“We are gratified there was a period of incarceration,” said Davitt. “That sends a message to the community. When you are in a position of trust, abuse of that trust is harmful and very serious.”

Defense attorney Andrew Graham argued that jail time for Dance would be unnecessary, saying the disgraced former superintendent had already been punished enough. Graham also noted that by pleading guilty, Dance had accepted responsibility for his actions.

In the lead up to her sentencing decision, Cox said that aside from acting as punishment and future deterrent for an individual, the court also had a duty to send a statement to public officials at large.

“There’s a public nature to what we do,” said Cox.

She also contended that Dance had numerous opportunities to come clean. Graham tried to frame Dance’s guilty plea as the move of an honest man while asserting that a man as busy as Dance simply made a mistake on a few forms. But Cox shot down that argument, saying that if Dance had his mea-culpa moment before a lengthy investigation had been launched, “we might not be here today.”

That sentiment was echoed earlier in Friday’s sentencing hearing when Davitt gave his opening remarks. Davitt argued that Dance had multiple ethics hearings and addendums made to forms he filed during his time as superintendent, and the statement of facts laid out by prosecutors showed not a forgetful person but someone who was actively trying to conceal what he was doing.

“This was a continuing course of conduct of deliberate deceit,” said Davitt. “If the course of conduct stopped anywhere along the way, we wouldn’t be here. This case is not about a lapse of judgment.”

Davitt contended that Dance had done “immeasurable harm” to BCPS on different levels, but emphasized the harm it did to children who had previously looked up to Dance as a role model.

“Teachers inherit that disillusionment,” said Davitt. “This was such an egregious betrayal of trust... the state feels it merits a strong response.”

During his response, Graham stated that if Dance were to serve jail time, it would be unduly punishing Dance’s 8-year-old son and his ailing, elderly parents. He added that Dance having to appear in court on his 37th birthday added to the “tragedy.”

Graham said prosecutors were also being inconsistent, citing current BCPS superintendent Verletta White’s failure to disclose payment.

White began serving as interim superintendent after Dance’s resignation in summer 2017 and was voted to a full term on Tuesday evening, April 17 by the board of education.

“She did exactly the same thing,” said Graham. “How can the state take totally inconsistent positions?”

The school board’s ethics panel found White to be in violation of the ethics code earlier this year for failure to disclose consulting fees. The panel added, however, that the form was “confusing and unclear,” and opted to close the case as long as White amended her disclosure form and ceased working with a consulting firm from which she had accepted funds, as well as not engage in any consulting activities while serving as interim superintendent.

Six witnesses testified on Dance’s behalf, and Cox had been presented with 69 letters from supporters calling for leniency. Graham also highlighted the myriad accolades and accomplishments throughout Dance’s career, as well as the number of lives he touched, especially students.

But Cox remained unmoved, telling Graham that “it’s not whether the good outweighs the bad.”

Davitt brought up current board member and former Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden as well as former superintendent Dr. Robert Dubel to express why Dance should serve time in jail.

Dubel lamented that the “squeaky clean record” of the school system was tarnished, while Hayden remarked that “the kids are the bottom line,” and an example needed to be set.

“The example we set goes directly to the kids,” said Hayden. “This trust was taken as an issue that wasn’t important to Dallas Dance.” read more

Excitement for new northeast-area school grows as principal holds information sessions

Excitement for new northeast-area school grows as principal holds information sessions
Charlene Behnke, principal of the new elementary school in the northeast area, hosted the first of four meet-and-greets for parents, students and staff on Monday night at Perry Hall Elementary School. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Dozens of parents showed up to Perry Hall Elementary on Monday night for the first installment in a series of meet-and-greets with the principal of the new Northeast-area elementary school, Charlene Behnke. The new school is slated to open in September.

The excitement was palpable from the outset of the meeting, with Behnke explaining the importance of parents meeting with the incoming staff over a cup of coffee.

“I believe it is important that the people that are teaching your children are people you would be comfortable to sit down and have a cup of coffee with. These are good people that I’ve hired,” said Behnke.

She quipped that she had already met with the staff over coffee, doing most of her hiring at Dunkin Donuts in Perry Hall. But with a new school opening, Behnke felt that parents should be afforded the same opportunity, and sooner rather than later.

Of the 20 or so future staffers present, almost all come from area schools like Joppa View, Vincent Farm and Seneca elementary schools. Quite a few have a history with Behnke while others will be working with her for the first time. But whether a familiar face or a new one, there were a few common threads that ran through the hiring process - wanting to take part in a new endeavor as well as wanting to push the limits of instruction.

“[Monday] night for the first time we got a chance to see some of the teachers at the new school, and I like the idea that these teachers are coming from the area,” said Ben Boehl, a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 8 and a parent to three children eligible to attend the new elementary school. He added that two of his children will have current teachers moving with them, which could help make the transition to a new school easier.

“The one thing that makes it easier is it’s a new school for everybody,” said Boehl. “This is pretty cool though because we’re creating a new school. Of course there’s a little concern but there’s definitely more excitement.”

Behnke, who has worked in Baltimore County Public Schools for 27 years this July, made sure she had tenured staffers for some of the more delicate elementary school positions, including school nurse, counselor and speech pathology. She has also taken a rather unique step in seeking two physical education teachers, citing the importance of physical activity.

While parents were afforded the opportunity to meet new instructors, not every teacher has officially been approved by human resources, and those who have been approved have not been assigned to a class yet. Quite a few teachers in attendance Monday will have to wait until the school officially finds out what their enrollment will be. But to Behnke, those teachers showing up to interact with parents spoke volumes.

“This is the level of commitment and excitement these teachers have,” said Behnke.

There are still other issues to be ironed out, according to Behnke. Start and end times have not been decided yet, and the furniture will not be moved into the new school until late August, leaving little time for teachers to get acclimated. As of press time, the school’s name had also not yet been approved, though a stakeholder vote decided on the name Honeygo Elementary. The name needs to be approved by the school board, which met on Tuesday night.

For now, Behnke wants to hear ideas from the community.

“We want to be very clear at the get go before anyone walks in the doors, what is it the community wants from this new school,” asked Behnke. “What will make you proud?”

One area of concern was what clubs would be available at the new school. Some parents expressed concern that what is offered in their children’s current school would not be offered at the new school. And considering some children have to wait until they’re old enough for certain clubs, parents want to make sure they have the opportunity to partake in things like LEGO club or Speed Stacking.

Behnke recited a lengthy list of clubs that her staff members had suggested, but noted that implementing all of them in the first year might be a challenge.

“Some of the clubs that exist at Perry Hall Elementary seem like they’ll exist at Honeygo, which is certainly a good thing,” said Boehl.

Of course, the school will also need an official mascot. While the decision will be left up to the students, the choices will be between an eagle, a fox or a bear. Behnke said she approached people with knowledge of the land the school was built on and asked what animals were often seen. She was told eagles and foxes. But considering the name of the school has “honey” at the forefront, the addition of a bear as an option just made sense.

And for those who voted for “Honeygo Run” to be the name of the school, Behnke added that she would like to see the school’s slogan become something along the lines of “Honeygo on the run,” as a play on both the energy of the school and the fact that it sits on Honeygo Run.

Two other input sessions will be held, with one taking place on April 24 at Joppa View Elementary School, and one on April 26 at Gunpowder Elementary School. Both sessions will start at 6:30 p.m.  read more

Volunteers help to restore shorelines in east-side county parks; more needed

Volunteers help to restore shorelines in east-side county parks; more needed
About 85 people helped to plant the restored shoreline around Inverness Park, and more volunteers are needed to do the same work for Cox's Point Park. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Roughly 70 volunteers joined with environmental workers Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, to help restore the shoreline of Dundalk’s Inverness Park by capping off construction work with the planting of native vegetation.

But still more volunteers are needed for another planting project next month.

A total of about 85 people installed about 14,000 plants over the two days. But between planning, permitting, design and construction, Watershed Restoration Program Director David Riter said it had taken nearly three years to get to that point.

The project encompassed 1,700 linear feet of shoreline in the park, according to Riter, and construction took place between November 2017 and March 15 this year. The $1.1 million cost of the project was funded through the county’s now-repealed Stormwater Remediation Fee, also known as the Rain Tax.

Riter explained at a Back River Restoration Committee meeting on Tuesday, April 10, that, as part of the Watershed Restoration Program, shoreline restoration projects aim to stabilize eroding shorelines.

“This helps to reduce nutrients and sediments getting into the waterways and improve habitat for aquatic and terrestrial animals,” he said.

Baltimore County uses a hybrid living shoreline approach, he said, which involves both structural and non-structural techniques.

Examples of structural techniques include using rocks and boulders to create breakwaters, jetties, groins or sills. Non-structural features include sand and plants installed on the shoreline.

Part of the construction at Inverness Park involved the construction of sills, which allow the low shoreline areas to become inundated with water at high tide while making sure the land does not erode away when the tide recedes, according to Riter.

“We had erosion problems here and we had large stands of invasive species,” he said, such as phragmites. “That stuff is not ideal for habitat.

“The plants that we have selected are specific to the types of elevation that we’ve designed for,” he said.

The crowd planted low-marsh grasses that like to get wet in the areas closest to the water, followed by a thin strip of high-marsh area that will get wet more irregularly, Riter explained. He added that a contractor was slated to come back Monday to plant another 225 trees and shrubs in the upland buffer area outside the sand fence.

The county partnered with the National Aquarium in Baltimore for the planting, and the aquarium’s role was mostly to help organize volunteers, according to aquarium conservation aide Sean Myers.

“We wanted to do a community outreach component so you get the buy-in,” Riter told the East County Times. “There were a lot of people that wanted to participate somehow with the project and planting is a great way to do it. I went to the aquarium because they’re the experts at coordinating this kind of stuff.”

The county also recently completed construction for a similar project at Cox’s Point Park in Essex and will begin construction for yet another at Watersedge Park in Dundalk this fall.

The 11-acre Cox’s Point Park, Riter said, is a popular park characterized as having “significant” erosion of its shoreline behind some undersized stone breakwaters.

He said there has also been some “hardening” of the shoreline from slag deposits, along with invasive species like phragmites and Japanese knotweed.

The Cox’s Point project consisted of 2,200 linear feet of shoreline, along which about two feet of soil was removed to get rid of as much of the invasive species’ root material as possible, along with any slag at the surface.

The county then installed enlarged and reconfigured breakwaters, designed to handle a 25-year storm, before placing 5,000 cubic yards of sand along the shoreline. Again with the help of volunteers, they will plant the shoreline with around 26,000 plants across four days in May. The planting will create about 1.7 acres of marsh area, Riter said.

A sand fence has already been installed around the shoreline at Cox’s Point which will function to keep people from walking through and trampling the area after it has been planted. But there are access points to the water included, plus a new ADA-compliant pier for people to use.

The construction cost of the Essex project stands at about $1.26 million, Riter said.

Following the planting, workers will install a goose fence to keep water fowl from pulling up the plugs, and a contractor will plant trees and shrubs in the upland areas. The areas will also be monitored by the county to see how the plants are coming along and if the shoreline is improving. They will also complete invasive species suppression as needed until the native species take hold.

The plantings at Cox’s Point Park will take place over the course of May 11, 12, 18 and 19 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. Anyone wishing to help with the effort is encouraged to pre-register through the National Aquarium by calling 410-576-1014, emailing or visiting read more

Eastside administrators up for Principal of Year award

Eastside administrators up for Principal of Year award
Kandice Taylor (left) and Drue Whitney. Courtesy photos.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Marge Neal -

In her eight years as a secondary school principal, Kandice Taylor has become known as a team-oriented leader who specializes in building up people and improving achievement data.

As a result of her hard work, the Deer Park Magnet Middle School principal is one of six finalists for Baltimore County’s Principal of the Year honors. The Middle River resident is joined by three other school leaders with east-side roots: Red House Run Elementary’s Drue Whitney, Eastern Technical High’s C. Michelle Anderson and Cathy Thomas, a former Logan Elementary School assistant principal who now occupies the big desk at Cromwell Valley Elementary Regional Magnet School. The remaining finalists are Deborah Magness, in her 10th year as principal at Cockeysville Middle, and Renee Jenkins, principal at Deer Park Elementary.

In addition to naming a Teacher of the Year, Baltimore County Public Schools also honors its top elementary and secondary school principals. While the teacher honor has existed for many years, this is just the sixth year for the principal awards and only the third year that top administrators are honored in each of the two education levels, according to a statement from the school system.

Taylor is familiar to many east-side faculty, students and parents, having previously served as principal at Kenwood High (2014-16) and Golden Ring Middle (2010-14) schools.

The competition was advertised internally throughout the school system, according to Taylor.

“It was advertised and my staff took it upon themselves to nominate me,” Taylor told the East County Times. “They didn’t tell me they were doing it; I would have tried to talk them out of it if they had.”

The nomination process is a multi-tiered effort, according to online application instructions. The initial phase involves recommendations from students, teachers, parents, colleagues and/or community members in support of a particular principal.

After the Principal of the Year Selection Committee reviews all nominations, to make sure they are complete, nominated principals are notified of their candidacy and are invited to submit a principal’s application for the award.

The finalists were notified last week of their competition status, and winners will be announced April 25 during an event at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

While saying she was “clueless” about her staff and school community coordinating the nomination, Taylor said she is humbled that her school would think enough of her leadership to pursue such an effort.

“This is actually pretty awesome,” she said of being a finalist. “I don’t like the attention but it is humbling and it does feel good to know that people believe I’m doing a good job.”

Throughout her eight-year tenure as a principal, Taylor said it has always been her goal to build up people and community; to build capacity, competence and confidence, as opposed to just creating initiatives for the sake of creating initiatives.

At Golden Ring Middle, Taylor was the one to lead the school through a state-mandated restructuring that resulted from too many consecutive years of sub-standard student achievement as measured by standardized testing.

“We worked hard, our data and achievement improved and we worked our way out of the restructuring,” Taylor said.

At Kenwood, Taylor was at the helm during efforts to improve college-related standardized test scores, as well as to improve the school’s culture of equity with regard to race, student expectations and achievement and discipline, she said.

“And we worked on acknowledging our biases and working to eliminate those biases,” Taylor said. “You can never totally make biases go away, but acknowledging them, talking about them and working on them is a start.”

Now in her second year at Deer Park in Randallstown, Taylor said she has concentrated on working on the school’s culture climate, working to instill confidence in both staff and students.

“I want to show our students we have a vision for them, and to equip them with the tools needed to achieve those visions,” Taylor said. “We are not perfect by any shape or form, but we strive to be a little better today than we were yesterday.”

Red House Run’s Whitney is excited for the honor but more excited for her school community.

“Being nominated was a total surprise to me and it feels good to be nominated by staff, parents and students,” Whitney said. “But it isn’t just me; we have this really wonderful school community that will do anything for the sake of student achievement.”

Whitney believes what sets Red House Run apart is the intensive web of trusting and meaningful relationships between different community populations: among faculty and staff; teachers and students; teachers and parents; and staff and the principal.

“Those relationships are the coolest thing about our school and what makes everything else possible,” she said. “And I give my teachers the power to be leaders because they are all so talented in their own right - it’s the right thing to do and the students benefit.”

Reading Specialist Christine Leppert said Whitney  encourages and supports teacher-led initiatives and is a “big proponent” of professional development, which arms the educators with the latest research and best practices to ensure student achievement.

“She keeps us competitive and current with the latest research,” Leppert said of Whitney. “She’s definitely a ‘teaching first’ leader.”

While Whitney strives to ensure students develop to the best of their ability, she also follows that path with regard to her staff, according to Leppert.

“Drue has groomed a lot of leaders here,” she said. “Lots of teachers have become assistant principals and assistant principals have become principals. And many teachers have become better teachers, developing to their capacity under her leadership.”

Alison Brown, the mother of a Red House Run fourth grader, had no shortage of compliments in describing the enthusiastic administrator.

“She embodies leading with heart,” Brown said of Whitney. “We tend to throw that phrase around a lot, but I see it every day with every child. She is patient with everyone, her leadership is visionary and she just gets it.”

Whitney is “awesome,” “very empathetic” and in tune with all of the students’ needs and abilities, according to Brown.

“I really hope she wins because she really deserves it,” Brown said. “I’m sure everyone says that about their favorite principal but she really does deserve it.”

Both administrators interviewed were humble about the role of their contributions to their school communities and instead chose to shine the light on creative, dedicated, talented staffs.

But Leppert, in her ninth year at Red House Run, said she contemplated transferring to a new school that will open within walking distance of her Perry Hall home.

“But then I decided I am perfectly happy where I am and this is where I am needed,” she said of the Rosedale school. “It’s a pleasure to work here and Drue is the major reason for that.” read more

BRRC disposes of abandoned boats, returns to Grays Road for second cleanup

BRRC disposes of abandoned boats, returns to Grays Road for second cleanup
An abandoned boat, found in the water off of Chesaco Road in Rosedale, was broken up and disposed of on March 14. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Back River Restoration Committee continued its crusade against trash Saturday, April 14, in order to clean up the Back River watershed.

Saturday’s event was the BRRC’s second official cleanup of Grays Road in Dundalk, which runs alongside Sparrows Point Country Club but is a mostly industrial area. Key Brewing Company, located at the end of Grays Road, sponsored the cleanup just as they did last year, providing food and drinks - the hydrating kind - to all who volunteered their time to come clean the area.

Although the organization’s last cleanup on Grays Road was nearly a year ago, the trash load was much lighter, so the lower turnout was not such a big deal. Still, some 80-plus volunteers dotted the road’s entire stretch, from its genesis at Wise Avenue to its terminus near Key Brewing.

BRRC President Sam Weaver said the amount of trash seen during Saturday’s cleanup was “nothing like” it was last year.

In 2017, the group and its volunteers collected six 30-yard dumpsters full of trash and more than 150 tires from the area, which they had never cleaned before, according to Weaver.

BRRC Executive Director Karen Wynn said this year they hauled in a total of about eight tons of garbage in just two dumpsters, along with 41 tires and a dump truck full of scrap metal.

The difference, Weaver said, was largely due to last year being the first time they had cleaned the area.

“Last year there was all kinds of mattresses, TVs, all that,” he said. He added that BRRC has also been back several times in the interim to pick up such bulk items so that they would not accumulate.

The Back River watershed covers approximately 55 square miles, stretching as far away as Towson, which makes it appropriate that even Parkville resident and scout leader Anibal Gonzalez brought the members of Scout Troop 740 out to help with the Dundalk cleanup.

Gonzalez, who noted his connection to the event through one of the owners of Key Brewing, said the items they find and amount of material collected during such cleanups is amazing. But he appreciated the opportunity to get the scouts out helping the community.

“It’s good for them to get out and do this stuff,” he said.

“This is important,” Gonzalez said, remarking about what they were also doing for the environment. “Anything that doesn’t get into the water is a good thing.”

Speaking of things getting into the water, especially those that stay for years and years, BRRC has made it a point to try to pull abandoned boats from waterways whenever possible.

Back on March 14, Weaver arranged for a total of five abandoned boats, dragged from their resting places in the Back River mud, to be broken up and disposed of properly.

Barry Devore, owner of Benjer Dumpsters, donated the use of his equipment that day, operated by his son Josh, to yank the boats from the water, break them up and put them into dumpsters for disposal rather than slowly breaking apart and polluting the river.

The boats amounted to a total of 29,000 pounds of material, according to Weaver.

“Those boats were all sunken for years way up above the [I-695] bridge, and some others are downstream,” he said. He added that the gas tanks and any other fluid containers from the boats were pumped out, and the major heavy metal components - such as motors - were taken for recycling.

The BRRC has removed more than 3 million pounds of trash and about 6,000 tires from the river and its watershed since 2011.

The bulk of that comes from the 900-foot, county-funded trash boom on the river. The previous average of 45,000 pounds of trash per month collected at the boom has decreased in recent years, Weaver said, due to increased cleanup efforts upstream.  read more

After denial, Nawrocki admits existence of past protective orders

After denial, Nawrocki admits existence of past protective orders
Photo courtesy of MDOT YouTube.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Following repeated denials that he had ever had a legal protective order against him, Ryan Nawrocki, a Rebublican candidate for Baltimore County Council in the Sixth District, took to his campaign website to explain that the situation stemmed from a child custody dispute.

His statement notes that he and his wife are high school sweethearts and “hit a bump in the road” when they were young, leading them to split up. He and the child’s mother - now his wife - both then filed for custody of the child.

“In the custody agreement process, under the mutual advice of our lawyers, we had a consent agreement drafted that detailed custody arrangements and support,” Nawrocki wrote. “We were also both legally advised at the time by our attorneys to file reciprocal protective orders to gain a leg up in our custody process.”

The candidate maintained in his statement that there was never any domestic violence which led to the orders.

However, a form contained within the county circuit court’s file on the custody dispute titled Master’s Settlement Conference Checklist, dated Aug. 29, 2008, lists several questions to gather pertinent details of the case.

The first question on the form asks, “Is there a current or recent D.V. [domestic violence] Protective Order,” for which the “yes” area is checked with a note above it that reads “07.”

An image posted on the internet, which purports to show case information regarding the incident, shows Nov. 16, 2007, as the court filing date for an incident and initial court order listing a series of orders as a result of the case. It lists the case type as “Domestic Violence.”

Prior to releasing his statement, Nawrocki called the image a fake and said he did not know why “yes” was checked on the form.

As of press time he had not responded to requests for additional comment following his statement.

Documents from the child custody case, on file with the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, make at least five references to the relevant protective orders and their associated case numbers from the county’s district court.

For instance, a complaint for custody filed with the court by Lauren Ellison - now Lauren Nawrocki - on March 31, 2008, mentions that “On November 20, 2007, the parties [Nawrocki and Ellison] appeared in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore County in Case Numbers SP1854-07 and SP1956-07 for a reciprocal Protective Order hearing.”

Although abbreviated in the document, the latter case number appears to be the same as the one that appears on the aforementioned internet image posted online. The case number on the image is 0804-SP01956-2007.

District Court officials have confirmed the existence of the case file under that case number, that it is a domestic violence case, and that the name Ryan Nawrocki is attached to it. However, the record is shielded and cannot be viewed by the public.

Nawrocki, in his statement, blamed the domestic violence allegations on “dirty campaign tricks” from Cathy Bevins, the Democrat incumbent councilwoman whom he would face if he makes it through the Republican primary.

Bevins has denied any involvement in the matter. read more

Commentary: No need to correct the record - let’s just set it straight

Commentary: No need to correct the record - let’s just set it straight
Charles "Buzz" Beeler (left) and Ryan Nawrocki (right) have teamed up to take down this reporter's credibility.
(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The events of the past week have led me to the conclusion that I made a mistake - one that a journalist should never make and for which I have to come clean.

The mistake I made was allowing a certain candidate for public office, along with an internet blogger, to shift the focus from the candidate’s past to my own.

In the course of my research and coverage of the candidates running for County Council in the Sixth District, I uncovered and reported on a potential dark spot in Ryan Nawrocki’s past: what appears to be a domestic violence incident between him and his now-wife.

After repeated denials that a protective order ever existed between the two, Nawrocki admitted in a post to his campaign’s website that they did have a reciprocal protective order between them 10 years ago before they were married. In his explanation, though, he maintained that it was not the result of domestic violence.

I’m glad he finally came clean, although I still question his account of the situation.

But in retaliation for the first article I wrote on Nawrocki, which was published on March 8 and showed that he misused his state-issued credit card while working at MTA, he dug up what at first glance looks to be a blemish on my journalistic ethics and credibility. He has quietly told people since then that I am in the pocket of Cathy Bevins, the Democrat incumbent county councilwoman who will face Nawrocki in the general election should he win the Republican primary.

Following my article last week, which ran on the front page of the East County Times, Nawrocki contacted former community blogger Charles “Buzz” Beeler, who now runs his own blog site, to write his own hatchet piece on the situation. Beeler’s blog attempts to fully discredit me while tearing apart my article.

But Beeler only further proved his own propensity for getting things wrong and twisting the facts.

After trying to make me look incompetent and saying the information in my article was unsubstantiated, he twisted my own statements and said I published the article before I had the necessary documentation.

To be clear, everything in my April 12 article was confirmed and substantiated before going to press. What Beeler mixed up was that I came across more documentation on Wednesday - after going to press - for a new article, which I published on our website Thursday afternoon. I spoke to Nawrocki for both articles.

Beeler also focused on the damning evidence against me which Nawrocki came across: a search in the Maryland State Board of Elections’ database of campaign contributions which shows I gave $40 to Bevins’ campaign in 2016. The two have since cited the ethics standards of the New York Times and the Society of Professional Journalists to highlight my “serious breach” in ethics. Nawrocki and his wife have also contacted ECT’s management numerous times calling for me to be sacked as a result.

Now, unlike Nawrocki, I will not try to claim that the screenshot Beeler published of the MSBE search result is a fake (Nawrocki claims an image posted online showing a Maryland Judiciary Case Search bearing his name from a 2007 domestic violence incident is a forgery). The search is real, and the state’s documents do say that. They are simply incorrect.

I have never contributed any money to Cathy Bevins’ campaign. And as of this writing I have in my possession a statement from Bevins’ campaign organization explaining the error.

I attended a campaign fundraiser for Bevins on Nov. 3, 2016, in preparation for an article published about six weeks later (I had to wait for the release of local voting statistics from the 2016 election to add to the article). I attended that event, as I’ve attended countless other events for local politicians, as a guest and was not charged the ticket price.

From the statement: “Mr. Crum received a complimentary ticket as he was a member of the press… Mr. Crum was not required to pay the $40 ticket fee to enter the event, nor did he pay the $40 fee.”

The statement notes that volunteers at the front desk mistakenly filed my ticket with those which were paid for in cash, and the campaign treasurer recorded it as such. But Bevins and her treasurer have informed the Times and me of their intent to file an addendum to that campaign finance report to correct the error.

I am actually grateful to Nawrocki for pointing it out so it can be fixed. This is proof that something wrong will stay wrong until someone brings it to light.

The MSBE search also turns up a second result - a $40 contribution to Republican Delegate Robin Grammer’s campaign in 2014 - which Nawrocki and Beeler have tried to use to establish a pattern for my actions.

Full disclosure, Grammer had a raffle going during his campaign that year and I was interested in the prize, so I bought a ticket. It may not be the smartest thing I’ve ever done as a journalist, but it certainly has no bearing on the work I do.

That contribution was in the previous election cycle, and I have not reported on Grammer’s or his challengers’ campaigns. Plus, any mathematician will tell you that one point on a graph does not establish a pattern.

It appears to me the true irony here is that Nawrocki and Beeler have teamed up to do exactly what they have accused me of doing: working together to discredit and defeat the candidate’s opponent.

He may not agree, but I’ve given Nawrocki a fair shake all along. He gave me tips about things to look into on Bevins as well; it just happened to be that none of them bore fruit. Nevertheless, I printed Nawrocki’s claims with an explanation of why they were unfounded.

Beeler reported on Nawrocki’s claims too, but instead of recognizing that there was nothing there (a domestic violence claim against Bevins from 2011 was dismissed by the courts due to lack of evidence), he sensationalized it as he is known to do.

I also suspect, as Nawrocki has suggested, that Bevins arranged for those protesters to show up at his campaign event on April 5. Bevins has at least a small connection to the protesters through different groups and they all - the councilwoman included - admitted as much. But Bevins denied organizing it and I can’t prove that she did, so I didn’t print it.

What I can prove is that a sealed case file with the same case number as the one published in the online image exists in the county district court in Towson. Court clerks have confirmed the name on that case file is Nawrocki’s and that it is a domestic violence case.

But Nawrocki has refused to answer questions about that case file.

Additionally, case files do not get sealed by the courts unless the parties involved request it. So what is in that file and why was it sealed?

Nawrocki may find my pursuit of the truth too “aggressive,” but that’s what good journalists do. And I will continue to ask tough questions of all candidates  as needed because voters deserve to know the answers.

This is not the first time I’ve been attacked for writing something that someone did not like. As I continue my career in this field, I’m sure it won’t be the last. But the factual nature of my entire body of work during my career stands on its own.

The reputations of those attacking me, on the other hand... well, they stand on their own too.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the East County Times. read more

Women protest Nawrocki fundraiser citing alleged past domestic violence

Women protest Nawrocki fundraiser citing alleged past domestic violence
Susan Fredericks (left), Janice Vincent, Cheryl Poletynski and Dawn DeBaugh greeted guests of Nawrocki’s campaign event with signs questioning his past at the Maryland Transit Administration and an alleged domestic violence incident. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/11/18)

Nawrocki and wife deny incident ever happened

- By Devin Crum -

Four women drew up signs and picketed outside a campaign fundraiser for Ryan Nawrocki in Middle River last Thursday, April 5, in an attempt to raise awareness of what they called his record of past domestic violence.

Nawrocki, a Republican vying to challenge Democrat Cathy Bevins for the Sixth District seat on the Baltimore County Council, called the demonstration “shameful” and blamed Bevins for propagating “baseless, nonsense claims.”

The signs the women carried bore messages related to the alleged domestic violence case, including an image which appeared to be taken from a public case file on Maryland Judiciary Case Search detailing a protective order imposed on Nawrocki in 2007 following the incident. The order shown required the defendant to temporarily vacate the home, stay away from the plaintiff’s place of employment and refrain from contacting the plaintiff.

“I don’t think anyone that has a history of domestic violence should be in office,” said Dawn DeBaugh, one of the protesters. “We just think it’s important that any woman that’s attending this event be aware of this.”

The protesters pointed out that the event was hosted by several women - listed as Nawrocki’s wife, Lauren; former state delegate and gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey; Nicole Beus Harris, wife of Congressman Andy Harris; and Dorothy Hinnant, a leader in the White Marsh community - and the keynote speaker was Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former Governor Bob Ehrlich.

“That’s why this event, I think, is important, because obviously they’re bringing women in” to speak on his behalf, DeBaugh said.

However, Nawrocki and his wife, in a joint phone call to the East County Times, both vehemently denied that any domestic violence incident ever occurred between them.

“There was no conviction and there was absolutely no abuse between Ryan and myself,” Lauren said. “These claims are just ridiculous.”

The candidate’s wife said that Bevins is worried about facing him in the general election and organized the protest to try to eliminate him as a candidate.

Nawrocki echoed that sentiment, stating that the councilwoman does not want to run on her own record since the district has experienced “high crime, failed schools and overdevelopment” during her time on the council.

Bevins admitted that she knew about the protest but denied any involvement in organizing it. And the women themselves stated that they belong to various women’s organizations and were simply a group of concerned citizens.

Janice Vincent, another protester, said she belongs to a group called Together We Will, a national women’s organization. Susan Fredericks said she and DeBaugh are members of Rise Up Maryland, an affiliate of the national Pantsuit Nation. However, they said they were not officially representing those organizations at the event.

A search for Nawrocki on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website does not return any files related to domestic violence. But a Google search can have different results, turning up the image which the protesters displayed allegedly showing his domestic violence case file.

The women said there is nothing in his official case file because he had the records expunged to shield them from public view. Fredericks criticized Nawrocki specifically for talking about transparency on the campaign trail while hiding his own record from the public.

But the candidate and his wife chalked up the existence of the case search image as simple forgery.

“It’s very easy to create any type of document,” Lauren said. “You can put whatever you like on the internet.”

“I can go post to gossip sites all day long, I can send anonymous emails all day long,” Nawrocki added. “I can do all those sorts of things. But I’m not, because I’m focused on the issues in this race.”

Responding to the protesters’ statements that he may not have left his position at the Maryland Transit Administration willfully, Nawrocki called those claims “absolutely ridiculous.”

Officially, Nawrocki resigned from his position as director of marketing and communications at MTA in July 2017.

“I was not fired from the MTA,” he said. “I decided to start my own business because I’ve always wanted to be a small business owner, and I think that [those claims are] just absolute nonsense.”

He held that he has never been accused of domestic violence and has never had any such records expunged.

A clerk for the district court in Towson, where the image shows the case was heard, confirmed to the Times that a file matching the case number on the image does exist and the name on it is Ryan Nawrocki. But it has been shielded and cannot be viewed by the public.

Although the court clerk could not confirm it, Bevins has alleged that the record was sealed in August 2017, which is consistent with the date of a request by the Nawrockis to seal the records of their child custody case. That request was denied and those records, which date back to 2008, are available for public viewing.

Despite this, Nawrocki continued to deny any domestic violence in his past. Instead, he fired back at Bevins, noting that she is the only candidate in the District 6 council race who has domestic violence listed on their record.

A domestic violence listing does appear on Bevins’ record, a complaint which she admitted was filed by her estranged daughter-in-law in 2011. However, that case was dismissed for lack of any evidence and no ruling was issued against Bevins.

For her part, Bevins charged that Nawrocki’s domestic violence record was open and visible when she last ran against him in 2010. She pointed to one social media post in particular, from just before the election that year as evidence that the information was available.

Jeanann Carroll Ferguson posted to Facebook on Nov. 1, 2010, a letter she sent to the Baltimore Sun expressing her disappointment that the newspaper endorsed Nawrocki for County Council that year. She criticized the Sun at the time for either not doing their research or simply ignoring the information.

“The Sun has, by leaving this information out, insulted every woman who has ever been abused,” Ferguson wrote.

Nawrocki, however, said that information in 2010 was propagated by Joseph Steffen, a political operative for the Ehrlich administration known as “the Prince of Darkness,” who “produced a lot of internet myths.”

He said Steffen, after he was fired by Ehrlich for spreading lies about then-Governor Martin O’Malley, began spreading lies about Nawrocki and other members of the Ehrlich camp.

Steffen died last year and could not answer to Nawrocki’s claims against him.

The women ended their protest Thursday night shortly after the event began, packing in their signs and leaving by about 7:20 p.m. But the candidate and his wife claimed the picketers returned to the Oliver Beach community hall later that night and confronted their 11-year-old daughter in the parking lot to “accost and verbally assault” her with comments about him and his campaign.

Cheryl Poletynski, the fourth protester, called those accusations “absolutely not true” and said they did not go back later after leaving the event. She said she, Vincent and Fredericks all went for coffee at Kelly’s Kitchen just outside the Oliver Beach neighborhood. Vincent separately affirmed that story.

“We were in a public place with public witnesses,” Poletynski said. “He knows what he said wasn’t true. If someone confronted his daughter,… it certainly wasn’t us.”

DeBaugh said she went straight home following the protest to prepare for a business meeting the following day.

“I would not, by any means, ever do anything to upset or harm a child,” she stressed.

DeBaugh provided the Times with an automated driving log in her car that she uses for tax purposes that recorded her leaving Middle River at just before 7:30 p.m. and arriving at her Sparrows Point home at about 8 p.m. She also produced date- and time-stamped photos of the project she was working on, sent to a client from her home at just after 9 p.m.

Nawrocki stood by his claims, though neither he nor Lauren could point to any witnesses to corroborate their story despite being “sure there were other people around,” according to Lauren. Nawrocki also did not offer any further evidence to back it up.

“For the record, if it was a Democrat running that had a history [of domestic violence] we’d still be doing this,” DeBaugh said during the protest to the agreement of the other women. “It’s for everyone’s information; maybe he’ll address it. That’s all we want.” read more

Delegates oppose push to confirm Verletta White as superintendent

Delegates oppose push to confirm Verletta White as superintendent
(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

At the last Baltimore County Board of Education meeting on April 4, board member Stephen Verch (Sixth District) floated the idea of voting to make Verletta White the permanent superintendent of Baltimore County Schools.

The vote would have required a second closed executive session during the meeting which would have put the board in violation of open meeting laws, therefore, a vote was never held.

Chairman Edward Gilliss, however, noted that the issue could be brought forth in the board’s next closed executive session on April 17.

While it is unknown whether a vote will take place, the thought of a lame-duck board taking a vote on a permanent appointment has rattled multiple members of the Maryland House of Delegates representing the county.

A letter signed by Delegates Kathy Szeliga (R-7), Robin Grammer (R-6), Bob Long (R-6) and Chris West (R-42B) was sent to the school board expressing their frustration with what they perceive as a lack of transparency.

“Based on our interactions with Ms. White over the past eight weeks, there has been a lack of response to our concerns and questions about issues in BCPS,” they wrote. “It is disappointing that the Interim Superintendent has neglected to maintain an open channel of communication. As the superintendent, we expect timely responses to any questions and concerns that we, or our constituents, may have about BCPS schools.”

Grammer added that the communications that have been obtained by the Baltimore County House Delegation have been heavily redacted.

“With the timeliness and severity of our school safety issues, to even think that redacting information about guns in schools is infuriating,” Grammer said. “We cannot continue to allow Baltimore County Public Schools leadership to sweep our problems under the rug. Unfortunately, Ms. White has shown a propensity to do just that in her tenure. The Baltimore County Board of Education would do our people a massive disservice by nominating Ms. White to be our next superintendent.”

Those delegates were later joined by Delegates Rick Impallaria (R-7) and Pat McDonough (R-7). In a letter sent out on April 5, Impallaria echoed the same concerns put forth by Szeliga and the others, but went a bit further in his criticism.

“This is not the appropriate time to appoint a permanent superintendent. Members of our first elected School Board will be officially taking office in November of this year. Moreover, a new county executive and County Council will be assuming office at the same time,” Impallaria said. “These are the public officials who will be required to work with the permanent superintendent in the years ahead and moving forward. It would be a mistake for a lame-duck school board to choose a permanent superintendent. Also, there is no urgency considering the new school year does not being until September.”

The push to have a vote on White has ruffled the feathers of multiple school board members as well, sending out mixed signals. The same night that Verch pushed for a vote, the board had voted to approve a $75,000 contract to bring back the same firm that had brought former superintendent Dallas Dance to Baltimore County in 2012. Dance resigned from his position a year ago and has since pleaded guilty to four counts of perjury. His sentencing is scheduled for April 20.

Kathleen Causey (Third District) characterized Verch’s suggestion to hold a vote for White four hours into the April 3 meeting as “shocking” and added that a fresh start was needed.

Despite the opposition, there has been plenty of vocal support for White, who has been working in Baltimore County Public Schools for more than two decades. Perhaps White’s biggest supporter is Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones, who ran somewhat afoul of White’s detractors earlier this year when, days before a community input hearing on what the board should be looking for in a superintendent, he sent out an email encouraging supporters to flood the meeting with calls for White’s permanent installation as superintendent.

Julie Henn, an at-large member of the the board, took to Facebook to express her frustration with Jones’ campaigning.

“I am angered and insulted by such blatant attempts to sway, undermine and ridicule the process. All opinions matter and we should encourage participation, regardless of views” she said. “This isn’t a PR campaign; it is a superintendent search. It is one of the most important roles of the board. I take it seriously; I would urge our elected leaders to do the same.” read more

With College Promise likely to be approved, Kurtinitis already eyes expansion

With College Promise likely to be approved, Kurtinitis already eyes expansion
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, flanked by BCPS Interim Superintendent Verletta White (left) and CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis (right), touted the College Promise proposal on March 19 as a game changer both educationally and economically. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

On March 19, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Dr. Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, announced that they were seeking funding to implement the Baltimore County College Promise program, a need-based community college scholarship program that makes community college free for those who meet the criteria.

Just three weeks later, Kurtinitis made known that her goal is ultimately to expand the program.

“No sector of higher education can do what we do to address the cost of college and the size of student debt,” she said. “Imagine, the College Promise comes into place and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

CCBC hosted College Promise Campaign Executive Director and former U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter on Monday, April 9, for a roundtable discussion on the challenges that lie ahead and the goals that Kurtinitis and CCBC stakeholders have for the program.

When it came to goals, Kurtinitis did not hold back. She pointed to Tennessee as a model for what she hopes will someday be a reality in Baltimore County. In 2014, Tennessee launched a College Promise program similar to the one proposed three weeks ago by Kamenetz and Kurtinitis. Three years later, that program expanded its eligibility requirements from including only recent high school graduates to allowing anyone of any age.

“Our goal is ultimately to match Tennessee. When we can reach a point where every student who comes here, whether they’re 45 or 18, can have access to a College Promise opportunity, we will really be able to do what we need to do for our students.

“In the meantime, we’re just so, so grateful. This is one of the most important things that could happen for us to help the people,” said Kurtinitis.

Funding for the College Promise program will be part of Kamenetz’s newest, and last, budget proposal, and it is expected to be approved by the Baltimore County Council.

The program is expected to cost just under $1 million in its first year, rising to $2.3 million in year three. When Tennessee expanded their program, it cost the state about $10 million to implement. During its first few years, the program will be open to Baltimore County residents with a household income of $69,000 or less who graduated from a public, parochial or home school within the past two years while holding at least a 2.5 GPA.

Kanter, Kurtinitis and Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones stressed that while there may be a cost, the benefits to implementing the College Promise program and expanding it will provide major educational and economic benefits.

“I see this as a direct investment in people. This will change people’s lives,” said Jones.

He also suggested that opening the doors of higher education is likely to cut down on crime. Jones stated that kids who “are at a crossroads” will suddenly have another opportunity available to them. He added that cutting back on jail and court costs would be just one way Baltimore County would benefit from the program.

“This is just a natural, better bargain on your dollar,” said Jones. read more

Marshy Point festival aims to pry spring loose from winter’s firm grip

Marshy Point festival aims to pry spring loose from winter’s firm grip
A giant tortoise owned by a volunteer will again be making the rounds at the festival. Photo courtesy of Ben Porter.
(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Mother Nature might not be willing to announce that it’s springtime, but Marshy Point Nature Center leaders are rolling out the red - or green - carpet to welcome the season of rebirth.

Marshy Point will hold its 16th annual Spring Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the center, 7130 Marshy Point Road in Middle River.

The annual gathering serves to showcase the waterfront gem nestled on Dundee and Saltpeter creeks, according to Senior Naturalist Ben Porter. The center, owned and operated by the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, offers a variety of activities, classes, demonstrations and exhibits throughout the year.

“The purpose of the festival is to showcase the wonderful backyard of the nature center, right here on the Chesapeake Bay,” Porter said. “We emphasize the outdoors and the natural resources here and introduce people to all of the programs and activities we offer.”

The event will offer a jam-packed schedule of activities and entertainment, according to Porter. Visitors will be invited to canoe the Dundee Creek, take water tours on the center’s work boat and observe demonstrations with wild animals, plant life, Chesapeake Bay retrievers and search and rescue dogs.

“We’ll have live music throughout the day, woodcarvers, beekeepers and re-enactors will portray life as it was in the 1700s,” Porter said. “They will include a segment on duck hunting - people have been making a living on the resources of the Chesapeake Bay for a long time.”

The Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Company is also scheduled to have one of its engines on display, Porter said.

There is no cost for parking or admission to the festival, but some activities, such as some of the children’s craft offerings, will have small fees to cover the cost of materials. All proceeds from the sale of food, Marshy Point merchandise, spring flowers and raffles will benefit the Marshy Point Nature Center Council, a volunteer group that supports the center.

“All the money raised will support building maintenance, program development, our resident animals, educational and training opportunities and displays and exhibits,” Porter said.

About 1,400 people traditionally attend the event throughout the day, which keeps things “pretty busy,” according to Porter, but staff members relish the opportunity to show off the unique waterfront facility.

“The festival is a family-friendly day with lots to see and do,” Porter said. “And we love the opportunity to show off our center and introduce people to the natural resources here in our community.” read more

Chesapeake’s McMillion seeks BOE seat to be voice for students, school staff, parents

Chesapeake’s McMillion seeks BOE seat to be voice for students, school staff, parents
Rod McMillion at an event at Chesapeake High School. Photo courtesy of Rod McMillion.
(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Marge Neal -

If Rod McMillion is successful in his quest to be elected to public office, he will find himself moving from the classroom - or in his case, the weight room - to the board room.

The 35-year Baltimore County Public Schools educator has filed to run for the Baltimore County Board of Education, representing Councilmanic District 7.

McMillion grew up in Essex, where he still lives, and attended Essex Elementary and Stemmers Run Junior High schools before graduating from Kenwood High in 1971. He received an associate’s degree from then-Essex Community College in 1973 and worked at Bethlehem Steel for 18 months before continuing his education at Towson State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1976. McMillion also has a master’s degree in physical education from Morgan State University and a second master’s in counseling and psychology from what is now Loyola University of Maryland.

Certified to teach K-12, McMillion taught in elementary school for 10 years before moving to Chesapeake High in 1993, where he is now the athletic director and a physical education teacher.

Quite content with his teaching career, McMillion said students are his motivation for running for a school board seat.

“I’ve said for a long time that this school board wasn’t accountable to anyone because it was politically appointed,” McMillion said. “I was very happy when the law was changed to include elected members and I decided to step up and do my part.”

Because of his extensive teaching and coaching experience, McMillion believes he has a working knowledge of many of the school system’s moving parts that will serve him well as a board member.

He said he is not a fan of giving every student a smart device and believes money could be better spent elsewhere.

“We brag about increasing our graduation rates; we might be graduating more kids but they’re graduating with less knowledge,” McMillion said. “These kids need devices to do basic math.”

The county-provided devices are being misused, in the educator’s opinion.

“They’re treated almost like toys,” he said. “The kids all download music and games to them, even though they’re not supposed to; it’s a joke.”

With school safety a national hot-button topic, McMillion said he is against arming teachers.

“I don’t want anything to do with a gun,” he said. “And I haven’t talked to a single teacher who wants a gun - that’s not what we’re here for.”

School safety belongs in the hands of academy-trained police officers, he believes, and pointed at Chesapeake’s school resource officers as an example of that model’s success.

Chesapeake, with a student enrollment of about 1,000 students, has two school officers assigned to it, according to McMillion. He singled one out in particular - Officer Hunter - who coaches three sports and is “actively engaged with the students” both on and off the job.

“He just recently got his 100th win as coach of the girls basketball team,” McMillion said. “The kids love him and respect him.”

McMillion also pointed to bullying as a topic that needs to be addressed once and for all. He is concerned that the intervention and anti-bullying education needs to be emphasized at the elementary school level.

“We need to be actively teaching our kids to respect life, and if that isn’t happening at the elementary level and the bullying behavior has no consequences, it moves on to the middle school level,” McMillion said. “Middle-schoolers have so much going on in their lives, and the bullying behavior is rampant in middle schools.”

Students need to learn there are consequences for bad behavior, and McMillion said educators and administrators need the authority and support to discipline bad behavior.

Pointing to the recent conviction of former BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance and federal charges being placed against Bob Barrett, who served as an executive officer for the system’s community and government relations division before retiring March 1, McMillion said a big task facing the new school board will be to restore public trust in the system.

“The school system has a budget of $1.6 billion,” McMillion said. “There’s all this talk about an audit - I think there needs to be a complete, comprehensive audit back to when Dance started in 2012. I firmly believe in the philosophy of ‘follow the money.’”

McMillion said he would also like to see the system’s Code of Conduct carry more weight.

“It needs to be evaluated. And if it is deemed adequate, then it needs to be enforced. If it needs to be changed, then it should be changed and then enforced.”

He believes school administrators, particularly principals, become more concerned about protecting their jobs than with running a tight ship. Bad behavior is ignored and swept under the rug to keep the number of reported incidents down, he said, which allows the bad behavior to continue.

“We need to give the administrators the authority they need to discipline,” McMillion said. “There has to be consequences for bad behavior; no consequences, the behavior won’t change.”

The candidate also believes an administrator’s job should not hang in the balance because of a school’s rate of suspensions, bullying incidents and other behavioral issues.

McMillion is concerned the system loses a lot of young teachers early in their careers, and he would like to see more support systems put in place to mentor and encourage new and young educators. He would like to see more qualified teachers hired to lower class size and is concerned about the perception of poor quality public education spurring more parents to either homeschool their children or send them to private schools.

Should McMillion win the seat, he will have to give up his teaching position. Conflict of interest rules prevent current BCPS employees from sitting on the board.

McMillion said he will not have to retire until after the general election in November. If he wins, he will need to retire before the swearing-in ceremony in December.

“I absolutely think I’m at an advantage, having worked 35 years in the system,” he said. “I think the kids of Essex, Dundalk and Rosedale need and deserve someone to fight for them and I believe I’m that guy.”

Because the Board of Education race is a non-partisan election, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will appear on both the Republican and Democratic primary ballots. McMillion will face Will Feuer and Eric Washington in the June 26 primary election, with the top two finishers advancing to November’s general election. read more

County Council passes bills regarding Franklin Square, DPW, east-side manufacturing

County Council passes bills regarding Franklin Square, DPW, east-side manufacturing
Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall, third from left) speaks to the other council members about his bill to alter the scope and mission of the county’s Department of Public Works to look at how to accommodate not just highway users, but bicyclists, pedestrians and transit. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Council members approved bills Monday night, April 2, that they believe will benefit either their districts on the east side specifically or the county as a whole. Each of the bills passed unanimously.

Eastern Family Resource Center
In bill 11-18, county Planning Director Andrea Van Arsdale said the administration was requesting supplemental appropriation of $500,000 from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Strategic Demolition Fund. The grant, she said, will be provided to MedStar Franklin Square hospital to subsidize the cost of demolishing the former Eastern Family Resource Center which was on the hospital’s grounds.

“The new Eastern Family Resource Center was relocated nearby in an expanded 80,000-square-foot facility to serve a broader range of people experiencing homelessness,” VanArsdale said.

The new facility officially opened in October 2017, and the hospital plans to build a new, 75,000-square-foot surgical center in place of the old facility.

Sixth District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, noted that the hospital is the largest employer in her district, and the Eastern Family Resource Center is important to her district and constituents.

“It turned out to be a wonderful facility that is very much needed,” she said.

Councilman Todd Crandell said the center also serves his constituents in the Seventh District and “does very well.”

New mission for DPW
Fifth District Councilman David Marks was the sponsor of another bill, 19-18, which seeks to amend the county’s charter to broaden the scope of the Department of Public Works and its responsibilities.

“This legislation would expand the mission of the Department of Public Works to more explicitly address the needs of all transportation users, including bicyclists and pedestrians,” he said before the vote. “It takes the Department of Public Works, which was created in the 1950s, and requires the agency to look more broadly at 21st-century needs.”

Marks said language in the county charter with respect to DPW is very highway-focused. But the new language makes the department responsible for mobility, traffic safety and engineering using “a variety of transportation options, including highways, bike lanes, pedestrian improvements and transit where appropriate,” according to the bill.

“This is one of the most important steps we have taken toward improving mobility and safety for our residents,” said Marks, who formerly served in senior transportation-related positions in the state and federal governments before being elected to the County Council.

Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville, also praised the legislation for creating a “bigger vision” for DPW when it comes to transportation rather than simply adding more and more highway lanes.

Although approved by the council, as a charter amendment the bill must also be approved directly by the voters via a ballot referendum in November.

New use allowed in ML-IM zones
Also passed by the council Monday was a bill sponsored by Bevins that adds language to the county’s zoning regulations to allow cold rolling mills in light manufacturing zones if they are located within an Industrial Major district.

Bevins said the stipulation essentially limits the mills to industrial parks.

A cold rolling mill, as defined in the bill, is a metal manufacturing and processing facility where metals or metal alloys are heated to produce a product in finished coil form. The heating facilities and furnaces used are capable of producing temperatures no greater than 500 degrees Celsius.

Bevins noted that the zoning code did not permit or even define cold rolling mills prior to her bill.

“This bill will allow 150 manufacturing jobs to come to Middle River at the former Worthington Steel site at Kelso Drive and Martin Boulevard,” she said.

The East County Times reported last month that Empire Resources, Inc. plans to convert their facility at the site from its current primary use as a warehouse to a cold rolling mill facility.

Bevins also stressed that the jobs created would be high-quality manufacturing jobs and not simply minimum-wage jobs. She added that the venture, which was supported by both the Essex-Middle River Civic Council and the Aero Acres community, will be well within government regulations for emission and noise, and all operations will occur indoors.

Essex Sustainable Community designation
Crandell said Monday was “an exciting night for Essex,” not just because of the bills, but also referring to the Council resolution he introduced to designate a delineated portion of the area as a “Sustainable Community” with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

The designation, which has been sought in recent months by the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce and its Eastern Baltimore County Task Force, will allow more access to state funding for certain revitalization efforts in and around the Essex commercial core.

The task force, a sub-committee of the chamber of commerce, over the past year has taken on the task of sprucing up Essex to make it a more desirable place to live and work, but funding sources for more sizable projects has been a question.

The Sustainable Community designation will enable the task force to apply for grants for things like streetscapes, beautification efforts or Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative grants, according to Crandell.

He expressed back in February that Essex is primed for reinvestment to take advantage of its geographical position between between the large-scale economic development and redevelopment occurring along MD Route 43 in Middle River and at the Tradepoint Atlantic property in Sparrows Point. He said at the time they were hoping to meet an April 6 deadline for the designation application.

The resolution will likely be discussed at the County Council’s work session on Tuesday, April 10, and voted on at the next legislative session on Monday, April 16.

Marks pulls bill restricting Chapel Road access
Councilman Marks had previously introduced a bill that would block access to Chapel Road in Perry Hall for new residential developments. He said a residential development is proposed for a property along Chapel Road north of Cross Road which includes an entrance on Chapel Road.

But Marks expressed a desire to preserve Chapel Road’s character as a “unique, hilly, country road.”

“While I don’t want all these entrances onto Chapel Road, for that development, there’s no other development they could link into,” he said.

That created concern that the bill would essentially be “governmental taking,” making it impossible for anything to be built there because of lack of access.

Marks said he withdrew the bill prior to last Tuesday’s Council work session, when it would have been discussed by the council members, because of the issues it presented. read more

Patapsco High student hopes to be voice of equity on county school board

Patapsco High student hopes to be voice of equity on county school board
Yara Daraiseh. Photo courtesy of BCPS.
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Yara Daraiseh is not an American by birth. The Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts junior has become a U.S. citizen, but was born in Jordan and moved with her family to this country in pursuit of a better education and more opportunities.

“I’m an immigrant, I’m from Jordan and I’m a Muslim,” she told the East County Times. “I know what it’s like to be part of a marginalized group and I hope to help others without a voice.”

And in that nutshell, Daraiseh explained why she hopes to be selected as the next student representative on the Baltimore County Board of Education.

She and Milford Mill Academy junior Haleemat Adekaya are the two finalists left standing after an arduous process to name the student who will serve on the school board for the 2018-19 school year.

Each candidate had to secure five specific recommendations, including from a school counselor, English teacher and principal; write an essay about why they were pursuing the appointment; and submit a list of extracurricular and community involvement, according to Daraiseh.

After a review of all candidates, about five were selected for interviews and Daraiseh and Adekaya were selected as finalists following that step in the process.

Next up for the two finalists is a forum set for Friday, April 6, at Pikesville High School. Each candidate will have five minutes to address several hundred student leaders from across the county before they cast the deciding votes to determine the name that will be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan for appointment to the board.

“I plan to advocate for school safety and equity,” Daraiseh said. “And I would like to start fundraising for [Advanced Placement] tests to help students from economically disadvantaged situations have the opportunity to take the tests.”

As an immigrant and a Muslim, Daraiseh said she knows first-hand the unequal and mean treatment that can be aimed at people from different or disadvantaged backgrounds.

She recalled an experience that happened in sixth grade with a boy she considered a friend. While having a conversation about the Middle East, the boy turned on her and called her a terrorist.

“It was quite traumatic for me and I had somewhat of a meltdown,” she recalled. “I went home and talked to my parents about it, and they helped me through it - they helped it become a learning experience and prevented me from looking at myself as a victim.”

But that experience has helped shape her life’s philosophy and make her more aware of the marginalization of certain groups of people.

“I’m going to fight for transparency and equal treatment,” she said. “You cannot give just a specific group a voice and then undermine the rest; everyone deserves a voice and everyone deserves to be heard.”

At Patapsco, Daraiseh is involved in the school’s steering committee, National Honor Society and serves as president of the school’s chapter of the National English Honor Society. She has been a member of the mock trial and debate teams as well as several athletic teams, according to a statement from Baltimore County Public Schools. In the community, she volunteers to provide Thanksgiving dinner and holiday gifts to the elderly and families in need.

Sandy Skordalas, chairperson of Patapsco’s Social Studies Department, had nothing but praise for the star student.

“Yara is a very poised, mature individual,” Skordalas said. “Coming from a marginalized group, she has a passion for equity - she recognizes the need for everyone to have an equitable chance to be successful.”

Skordalas also serves as the coach of the mock trial team, which Daraiseh has been a member of since her freshman year.

“I’ve watched her grow since ninth grade and she’s one of the most poised students I’ve ever known,” the educator said. “She truly lives her beliefs - she really just lives and breathes this stuff.”

Daraiseh said she is grateful for her parents - mother Aisheh Toubat and father Omar Daraiseh - making the decision to come to the U.S. simply to make sure their only child had the best chance possible to become a success.

“My parents came to this country so I could do big things,” she said. “And I don’t plan to let them down. I hope to study law and work with people who need a voice, who need representation.”

She believes a seat on the Board of Education will be a good early step toward that end.

But she is also already a savvy diplomat: “Either way, however the students vote, they get a great representative.” read more

Some bills progressing, many others languishing as General Assembly session nears end

Some bills progressing, many others languishing as General Assembly session nears end
The State House in Annapolis. File photo.
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Devin Crum -

As the Maryland General Assembly quickly approaches its finish line on Monday, April 9, many state legislators, including those representing eastern Baltimore County, are scrambling to make one final push to get their bills over the line.

While a few bills sponsored by east-side representatives have either already passed or are making good progress, many more have either failed or are looking like they will die in committee.

One example of a bill making good progress is House Bill (HB) 736, which restricts pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, from keeping pharmacists from telling customers if there is a cheaper option for their prescription drugs.

“Essentially it just says that a pharmacist can tell you the cheapest cost of a drug,” said Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-Perry Hall) who sponsored the bill.

Although industry advocates have said the practice is rare among their members in Maryland, some PBMs have contracts with pharmacies that prevent them from telling customers if the cash price of their prescription drugs is actually less than their insurance deductible. The bill outlaws that practice.

Bromwell’s bill was cross-filed with state Senator Katherine Klausmeier’s Senate Bill (SB) 576, and while the senate version had not yet made it through both chambers of the legislature, Bromwell believed it would by the end of Tuesday. The House bill had already cleared that hurdle.

Conversely, two bills sponsored by Del. Joe Cluster, a Perry Hall Republican, appear have been dead on arrival early in the legislative session.

The first bill, which would have reduced the state’s sales and use tax from 6 percent to 5 percent, was given an unfavorable vote in committee back on Feb. 26. The second, an attempt to reduce the sales tax on alcohol, was heard in committee on Jan. 15 but never received a vote, leaving it in legislative limbo.

Such is the fate of countless bills year after year, causing frustration for the sponsors of those bills, and this year is no different.

For instance, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Dundalk) sponsored a bill to establish minimum standards for school buildings in the state. That measure was heard in committee on Feb. 21, but has since sit idle without a committee vote.

The same is true for another of Salling’s bills that would eliminate what is known as the Broening Highway toll - the practice of making vehicles exiting from I-695 to Broening Highway pay the Key Bridge toll even though they do not cross the bridge - by creating a dedicated lane for that traffic. Salling admitted after a March 14 committee hearing on the bill he was not optimistic about the its passage, having seen it meet a similar fate in years past.

Three bills sponsored by Del. Christian Miele (R-Perry Hall) have also made no progress after all being heard in the same committee on the same day, March 9. One would heighten penalties for falsifying one’s address in order to attend a different public school in Baltimore County, another would allow individual schools to sell the naming rights on their fields and courts for fundraising purposes, and the third would repeal the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing program in Maryland schools and replace it with the California Achievement Test.

“It’s always disappointing when your bills are languishing in commitee,” Miele told the East County Times. “One of the most frustrating things for me is when bills don’t get an up or down vote, because I think it makes it really difficult to represent your constituency and your communities when a committee doesn’t give you any indication of its sense of whether or not your bill is good policy.”

The delegate said a vote one way or the other is good for accountability because it lets the public know how their legislators are voting on specific policy proposals. But they are also good for lawmakers themselves so they can get a feel for when a committee is opposed to something and what they may be able to do to rectify it.

One bright spot for Miele has been his bill (HB1600) to create an anti-bullying task force for Baltimore County Public Schools, which passed the House of Delegates with no opposition and was working its way through the Senate. As of Tuesday morning, the bill had been referred to the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee. A hearing on the bill there was scheduled for Wednesday, April 4.

“This thing needs to pass,” Miele said. “I mean, [with a vote of] 139 - 0 in the House, there’s no reason why anybody would oppose a bill that costs taxpayers nothing and that seeks to address the bullying epidemic in our public school system.

“Any result other than the full passage of this bill would be for nefarious political reasons,” he asserted.

Miele and Bromwell both praised the passage of a bond bill to provide up to $390,000 in state funds to the Maryland Natural History Society in Overlea to allow them to remodel and upgrade their current facility.

“They’ve never had the ability to have their own showcase,” Bromwell said. “We don’t have a museum of this type in Maryland.”

He added that the funds will allow the society to host more children and other visitors to see their showcases and participate in their programs. “It’s things like birds, insects, fossils - a really impressive variety of different items that they’re going to be able to showcase.”

Other bills from east-side delegates Pat McDonough, Ric Metzgar and Robin Grammer, all Republicans, had either stalled or died in committee as of Tuesday as well, such as McDonough’s plan to study creating a “Supertrack” event facility or Metzgar’s plan to create a flat-rate annual commuter plan for people using the Key Bridge. Both were given unfavorable reports in their respective committees.

Del. Grammer has had a particularly unsuccessful session, with bills having to do with regulating methadone clinics, conducting a legislative audit of BCPS, state acquisition of Fort Howard, and addressing dilapidated buildings and neighborhood blight all receiving unfavorable votes in committee. Two others, allowing medical cannabis patients to retain their Second Amendment rights and prohibiting dredging of Man-O-War Shoal for oyster shell, have not received votes in committee.

Grammer acknowledged that there were issues with some of his bills, such as questions of constitutionality with the methadone clinics or the possibility of increasing state spending by acquiring Fort Howard. But ultimately he felt the issues could have been worked out.

Instead, he attributed a lot of his bills’ lack of progress to election-year politics. Although Republicans are the majority in eastern Baltimore County, they are sorely outnumbered in the state.

A bill he sponsored, which would remove the sunset provision passed with his Java Act to allow special needs students at Patapsco High School to operate a coffee shop at the school, is technically still viable, but was also viable at this point last year.

“The status of that bill is a pretty good indicator of what’s happening here,” Grammer said. “It’s an election year and that’s a Baltimore County bill, and lawmakers from [Prince George’s and] Montgomery [counties] and Baltimore city keep sticking their hands in it,” which typically does not happen with bills that are specific to a jurisdiction.

“It’s still alive, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they pulled some kind of trick play to kill it with time,” he said.

The delegate sponsored a bond bill as well to provide up to $175,000 for the Aquila Randall monument in Dundalk, but he said that was similarly doomed because of his party affiliation.

Grammer said the appropriation of state dollars in this year’s General Assembly has been “completely political,” noting that of the seven funding measures that passed from Baltimore County, six of them were introduced by members of the majority party. read more

Repaired Todd’s Inheritance fence is ready for its open house close-up

Repaired Todd’s Inheritance fence is ready for its open house close-up
Much of the wooden fence had fallen down following heavy winds on March 2, but volunteers determined the fence posts were likely rotted below the ground. Courtesy photo.
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The fence at Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site in Edgemere can’t seem to catch a break.

Or, perhaps more correctly, it catches too many breaks.

The wooden fence that surrounds the property of the historic Edgemere homestead is often the victim of car crashes and seems to have a knack for getting hit again shortly after repairs are made.

But the most recent perpetrator of damage to the fence was the tremendous windstorm that swept through the Baltimore region on March 2. The gusting winds knocked down two huge sections of fence, including most of the barrier that lined the North Point Road side of the property.

Just in time for the museum’s first open house of the year, though, the fence has been restored thanks to a crew of volunteers who did the heavy work and benefactors who donated the materials needed for the repairs.

“We lost almost 200 feet of fence,” said Fran Taylor, vice president of the group’s Board of Directors. “It looked like a lot of the posts were rotted at ground level and we think the wind was enough to just take down the posts.”

There were no witnesses to the destruction, according to Taylor. But judging from the quantity of fencing knocked down, with the sections largely in tact and the rotted shards of posts sticking up from the ground, volunteers think the damage was caused by an act of nature and not one of vandalism, he said.

“We’re just thankful it wasn’t the roof,” Taylor said. “We could handle fixing the fence.”

In any case, North Point State Park Ranger Bob Iman, local volunteer Andrew Tomczewski and Taylor toiled over the course of two weeks to assess the damage, order materials, create a plan and physically repair the fence that is now ready to greet visitors the weekend of April 21, when the house opens for the season.

Volunteers have been busy during the winter working on the house and its exhibits in preparation for the historic site’s second season, according to group President Carolyn Mroz.

While working to refresh the first-floor experience for visitors, volunteers are also busy working on the second floor of the house, which is closed off to visitors until more work is completed.

“We are working very hard to allow limited access upstairs,” volunteers wrote in a post on the Todd’s Inheritance Facebook page. “One fireplace is cleaned and ready to go.”

Local Boy Scouts have undertaken the repair of the house’s waterfront porch as the community service project of an Eagle Scout candidate but they are still far away from their fundraising goal of $1,500 for the job, according to Mroz.

“They have to raise the money needed and I’ve encouraged them to contact local businesses along North Point Road for their support,” Mroz said. “Even if they were able to get $100 from each, that would be a big help.”

To kick off the 2018 season, the house at 9000 North Point Road will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22. The event will serve as a grand reopening, according to Taylor, and will include updated exhibits that feature the Todd family history, Native American artifacts and North Point Peninsula history. War of 1812 re-enactors will be on hand both days.

Local historian and author Scott S. Sheads will offer a talk titled, “What is Past is Prologue: The Lower Patapsco Neck in the War of 1812,” at 1 p.m. both days.

In borrowing part of his lecture title from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Sheads will convey his theory “that all that happened before has led us to the opportunities we have in the present and in the future,” according to an online description of the event.

Sheads served as a historian at Fort McHenry for many years and is the author of several books about the War of 1812. He is hard at work on a book about the Battle of Patapsco Neck and the defense of Hampstead Hill (now Patterson Park), including an illustrated history of the Aquila Randall Monument and other North Point-area historical markers and monuments.

Each monthly open house weekend for the remainder of the year will focus on a particular theme, according to Mroz. May will celebrate Armed Forces Month, June will pay homage to Flag Day and July will emphasize parks and trails, in partnership with North Point State Park.

Daily admission to the house is $10 for adults 16 and older and $7 for senior citizens 60 and older. Children 15 and younger are admitted free of charge, and annual family memberships that allow unlimited visits cost $30.

For more information or to make a donation to the Eagle Scout porch project, visit the Todd’s Inheritance Facebook page or contact Mroz at 443-803-0517 or read more

Fighting breaks out at Dundalk carnival

Fighting breaks out at Dundalk carnival
(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

A series of fights broke out on Sunday night at the Jolly Shows Spring carnival on the Eastpoint Mall grounds, resulting in the carnival shutting down for the night.

Shortly before 9 p.m. on April 1., a series of scuffles broke out at the carnival.

“A bunch of little fights were breaking out here and there, and one got out of hand,” said Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Jennifer Peach.

According to Peach, two off-duty officers were working secondary employment as security for the carnival. One of the officers used pepper spray to try to break up a fight, but it seemed to have the adverse effect.

“Once the OC [pepper] spray was sprayed, the kids started running and that caused additional fighting,” said Peach.

The off-duty officers called for backup and received help from the Essex, White Marsh and Dundalk precincts, as well as Baltimore City Police and Maryland Transit Administration Police. The additional help assisted in dispersing the crowd, as well as road closure and breaking up fights around the immediate vicinity.

One juvenile was arrested and there were no injuries reported. Baltimore County Police estimated that about 2,000 teenagers were dispersed from the property, but Peter Joseph, president of Jolly Shows, told The Baltimore Sun that their estimate was high.

“You had a lot of teenagers,” Joseph said. “Just some mischievous stuff.”

The East County Times left a message for Joseph for additional comment, but that call had not been returned by press time. read more

County consults public as planning for Bird River dredging continues

County consults public as planning for Bird River dredging continues
This image, courtesy of Baltimore County EPS, shows where maintenance work will be done for the channel, including the proposed new sections for residents at the ends of Stumpfs and Bird River Grove roads. Channel sections delineated but not colored have been determined to be deep enough without needing much, if any, re-dredging.
(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Representatives from Baltimore County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability held a public meeting Thursday, March 22, to give residents more information about the upcoming maintenance dredge of Bird River, planned to begin next year.

Although the meeting was geared toward bringing those property owners into the fold who wish to have spurs dredged to their piers or boat ramps, residents took the opportunity to gather more information on the project and express their concerns.

First announced in April 2017, the county plans to use $4.5 million - including $1.745 million from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Waterway Improvement Fund and the balance coming from county bond sales - to perform a maintenance dredge of the Bird River boating channel. The channel was last dredged between 2002 and 2004, and the new project is based on what was done then.

“That was 25,000 linear feet of dredging,” said Chris Rager of Bay Land Consultants which is helping to design the project. “It ran all the way from [where Bird River meets the Gunpowder River] all the way to the headwaters and down into Railroad Creek.”

The dredged depth for the main channel from the Gunpowder to the mouth of Railroad Creek and west to the Stumpfs Marsh area will be taken to 4.5 feet at average low tide, Rager said. Inside Railroad Creek and above Stumpfs Marsh, channel depth will be between 3.5 and four feet. Private spurs will also have that depth.

While a survey showed that many areas of the main channel are already at or near the target depth, Rager said, “most of these areas that were previously dredged closer to homes are going to be dredged again.”

Two new potential channel sections are also included in the plan in response to concerns from some property owners who would otherwise be a significant distance from the channel.

Peter Terry, a resident of Stumpfs Road, said last April that a spur from his pier to the channel on the far side of the river would have cost him $70,000. And he was concerned that it would fill in with sediment far sooner than the 10-year loan for the work would be paid off.

One new channel section would be cut in the upper river going southeast from the southern channel toward the end of Bird River Grove Road. The other would reach west from the main channel just below Stumpfs Marsh toward the end of Stumpfs Road.

The main channel will be about 50 feet at its widest near the mouth of the river, tapering down to about 30 feet in the headwaters areas, according to Rager. And the spurs will be a minimum of 20 feet wide.

David Riter, EPS’ Waterway Restoration Program supervisor, said barring any hiccups they should be dredging as soon as the work window opens in October 2019.

Due to environmental regulations, work is restricted to the time between October and February so as not to interfere with any fish spawning.

“It will probably take two years to complete like it did last time because of the time-of-year restrictions and just the linear size of the channel,” Riter said.

Riter and Rager said the Bird River project is unique in that it has its own “dedicated” dredge material placement site (DMP) where the sediment taken from the channels will be deposited. The facility is located on Bowerman Road in White Marsh, behind the Eastern Sanitary Landfill and close to the river.

The Bird River DMP was used during the 2002-2004 dredging as well, but this is the last project it will accommodate, Riter said.

“We’re actually having to remove material [from the facility] now to make room,” he said.

“It needs some clearing, it needs some material capacity creation and that project for the DMP site is currently running with our permitting process as we stand now,” Rager added.

Riter told the East County Times the facility has about 91,000 cubic yards of capacity remaining, and they anticipate generating about 75,000 cubic yards of material through the 2019 project.

“One would think that we have sufficient capacity, but because the hydraulically placed dredge material is greater than 90 percent water, we must have twice the placement capacity at the DMP,” he said. “As such, we need to excavate between 15,000 and 19,000 cubic yards of material from the DMP and sequence the construction over a two-year period. Once the DMP has been prepared we’ll have 110,000 cubic yards [of space].”

Riter explained that the first year of dredging will generate about 40,000 of material, for which they will need 80,000 cubic yards of space in the DMP. The dredge material will then dewater and consolidate during the eight months from February to October when work is prohibited, he said.

“When dredging resumes, we will have 70,000 cubic yards of capacity at the DMP to place the remaining 35,000 cubic yards of dredge material,” Riter continued. “At the conclusion of the project, the DMP will be near capacity.”

He said the material being removed from the facility to make room, provided no contaminants are found after testing, will be excavated and taken to an approved location to be reused as fill, cover or some other type of “innovative reuse” to be determined.

For those residents interested in spurs to connect from their piers or boat ramps to the channel, the county is offering 10-year, interest-free loans assessed as a lien on the property. EPS held one public workshop on Wednesday, March 28, to help residents through the process of applying for a spur, and they will hold another at Eastern Regional Park in Middle River from 5 - 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 29 for that purpose.

Applications for spurs must be received by May 11 so that the county can submit its overall project application to the state by June 1. But Riter stressed that property owners are under no financial obligation until the price of their spur channel is known - after the job is bid - and a spur loan agreement has been signed.

Riter noted that each spur will have its own cost and the average cost is $75 per cubic yard of material.

“So the more you dig, the more material you generate, the more expensive your spur is going to be,” he said.

Some residents have lamented that following the last dredging project, their spurs filled in with new sediment after just a few years.

Riter confirmed that even if a spur fills back in before the loan period ends, those property owners will still be responsible for paying off the loan. Though, he acknowledged that the Bird River “sometimes looks like chocolate milk” after a heavy rainfall due to sediment flowing in from upstream in the watershed.

“I’d like to think that the efforts that have been undertaken [upstream] will reduce the sediment in the waterway” and the channels will not fill back in as quickly, he said. “But there’s also channel dynamics out there. When the drainage from White Marsh Run leaves that narrow stream and hits that broad body of water, it slows down and the sediment drops out of it. It’s a problem.”

He also said there is no plan to remove the non-native hydrilla vegetation that can tangle boat propellers except what is removed incidentally via dredging.

Rager added that large storms can degrade the channel. “But our recommendation is to boat in the channel,” he said. “All of you boat in the same channel and it keeps the channel open.

“Stagnant water makes it easier to fill in,” he said. “If you guys are constantly using the channel, [that will not happen].” read more

Dundalk food bank up and running at Tradepoint Atlantic

Dundalk food bank up and running at Tradepoint Atlantic
(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The Dundalk food bank organized by Laughing Wolfe Resources tried out its new home at Tradepoint Atlantic on Monday, March 26, and by all accounts, it seems to be a good fit.

The food bank used the Steelworkers Local 9477 union hall on Dundalk Avenue from its inception in 2012 until January, when the hall was sold and organizers were told to find another location.

Upon hearing the food bank was being displaced, officials at Tradepoint - the owner of the former Bethlehem Steel property in Sparrows Point - offered space on its campus. After all the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed by all partnering entities, the food bank was given the green light to proceed.

“Today is just a trial run to get a feel for the space,” food bank coordinator Melody Elste said Monday as she assisted with food distribution, coordinated volunteers and chatted with folks using the well-appreciated resource. “This is probably only about half the food we usually give out, but we didn’t know how many people to expect and we have to get a system down in this new space.”

About 25 volunteers were on hand to direct traffic on the parking lot, sign people in, staff tables loaded with food ranging from fresh produce and poultry to boxed mixes and canned goods, answer questions and restock food on the distribution tables as needed.

“The group of volunteers we have is just unbelievable,” Elste said as her “right-hand man,” Steve Stephens, nodded in agreement. “They just showed up this morning and we do what we do - we made it happen.”

Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s vice president of corporate affairs, said he thought the event was “extremely well-run” and lauded the volunteers for their efforts.

The Fitzell Room “worked perfectly” for the mission, he said, and noted any inconvenience to employees was minimal.

“With this being held two times a month, we can handle it,” he said. “And as a result of just the first meeting, one of our employees’ mother wants to volunteer.”

Just one distribution date was scheduled for March, but Elste said the pantry will be open April 9 and 23, and hopes to maintain a twice-a-month distribution thereafter. The food distribution will take place in the Fitzell Room of Tradepoint’s main office building.

Quite a bit of work was required before doors could opened to clients, according to Elste. While the food bank officially opens at noon, volunteers reported at 7:30 a.m. Plastic tarps were put down to protect the room’s carpet and a truckload of food had to be unloaded. Tables had to be set up and volunteers needed to unload boxes and crates and transfer food to the table for easy distribution.

While that work was being done inside, clients began to line up outside, many toting wagons and wire carts, or carrying boxes or reusable bags.

The advertised hours are noon to 3 p.m., but Elste said they will open the doors as soon as all the work is done and volunteers are ready to go. On Monday, folks were signing in by 11:30 a.m.

“We’re not going to make people wait outside if we’re ready to go,” Elste said.

Many of the core volunteers, including Steve Pomeroy

and Bob Price, have been a part of the team since the food bank was created in 2012. On Monday, the two men were the keepers of the grapes, handing out bags of the fruit to those who wanted them and reloading from a nearby stack of boxes.

From the grape table, clients made their way around a wide, U-shaped display where they could collect apples, salad greens, white and sweet potatoes and other fresh produce, boxed macaroni and cheese, pancake mix and syrup, and a variety of canned vegetables before getting to the last tables loaded with unexpected treats: potato chips and two-liter bottles of soda.

“National Beverage gave us a large donation,” Elste said of the soda offering. “And they reached out to me. I didn’t contact them.”

The organizer said she hopes the relationship with National is long-term: “I’m hoping that when they have extra, they’ll contact us,” she said.

When the dust had settled on Monday’s distribution, about 280 people claimed nearly 8,000 pounds of food, according to Elste.

“We actually closed a little early because we ran out of most of the food,” she said Tuesday. “We just had some grapes, apples and nectarines left over.”

Elste said she sees the relationship between Laughing Wolfe Resources and Tradepoint as a lasting one, and said volunteers were excited about the new venue.

“It went very well, considering it was our first time at a new place,” Elste said. “We’ll continue to work out our system and it will just get better.”

The energetic organizer already has several ideas to improve the service, including the possibility of being able to provide pet food for those struggling to keep their family pets fed and partnering with another group to perhaps offer a weekend distribution for working people who cannot make it to a weekday distribution.

“The community has a lot of working poor who just can’t come out at noon on a Monday to get food,” she said. “We’re going to see if we can do something about that.”

Tomarchio agreed that the potential for a longstanding partnership exists.

“This just absolutely makes sense to us, given the history of the property and the difficult times that left families in need,” he said. “If we can do something to turn that around like we’re turning this place around, it all the better fits our mission and we’re happy to do it.” read more

SEAC receives update on local school construction projects

(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

At the Southeast Education Advisory Council meeting at Patapsco High School on Monday night, March 26, Leslie Lazzeri, who works in the Office of Facilities Management, told council members that most of the projects scheduled or underway in the southeast area are on track.

That would normally suggest an uneventful meeting, but Jackie Brewster, chair of the SEAC, delivered a sharp message to Lazzeri - they are not happy with the renovations at Patapscho High School and Center for the Arts, which are slated to finish in August 2019.

“We don’t really like what’s going on here,” said Brewster.

Brewster recounted to Lazzeri, who was filling in for OFM Executive Director Pradeep Dixit, her issues with the project, mainly that the renovation will not provide overcrowding relief. She noted that there have been overcrowding concerns for decades, and that in 2009 she was informed by a builder that the best course of action would be to construct a new school. Instead of allocating funding to Patapsco, however, funding went to George Washington Carver.

Fast forward to present day, and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s announcement that he would be including funding in the upcoming budget for the planning of a new Dulaney High School has Brewster and the other members of the SEAC feeling like they did almost a decade ago.

“It’s happening to us all over again,” said Brewster.

Lazzeri told the SEAC that just because they were getting a renovation, that would not preclude them from receiving money for an addition later down the line.

SEAC members also took issue with changes made to the classrooms that have already been renovated at Patapsco. Issues ranged from smaller classrooms to only having a single door, which members believe poses a safety issue as well as a traffic flow issue. Students will not be able to enter as others are leaving, leading to hallway backups. They commented that it did not seem like the architects who designed the school took student flow under consideration. Later, they took Lazzeri on a tour of one of the new classrooms for her to take photographs.

While the latter half of the meeting focused on Patapsco, the first portion of the meeting was aimed at providing an update on construction projects around the area.

Lazzeri told the SEAC that she expects an announcement to come out in the next week formally announcing a groundbreaking ceremony for Dundalk Elementary, which is scheduled for completion in August 2019.

Colgate and Berkshire elementary schools are also on schedule for 2020 openings, though the students at Colgate will be relocated to the Rosedale Center for two years while demolition and construction take place.

Because of the size of Colgate’s property, relocation is necessary. The Rosedale Center currently hosts Victory Villa students while their new building is completed. The logistics of the move are still being worked out, but they are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, according to Lazzeri.

Elsewhere, the roof replacement at Chesapeake High School is almost complete, while Mars Estates Elementary and Kenwood High School will finish their air conditioning projects in the near future.

‘Perennial’ Broening Highway toll bill heard in Annapolis

‘Perennial’ Broening Highway toll bill heard in Annapolis
Southbound (Inner loop) traffic must first pass through the toll plaza and pay the toll for the Key Bridge before exiting to Broening Highway, even though they would not cross the bridge. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Devin Crum -

For the third time, state Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6) has introduced a bill that would eliminate what is known as the Broening Highway toll on I-695.

Inner loop traffic on I-695 must travel through the Francis Scott Key Bridge toll plaza before it can exit to Broening Highway. The same is true for those traveling from Broening Highway to I-695’s outer loop. This creates a toll for using Broening Highway even though that traffic does not cross the bridge.

Salling’s bill would see the Maryland Transportation Authority install a jersey barrier to separate that traffic from vehicles that do cross the bridge and not charge those drivers the toll fee.

Salling said the bill is especially important with the growth of the Port of Baltimore and Tradepoint Atlantic at Sparrows Point because many commercial truckers traveling to or from those facilities attempt to avoid the toll by using neighborhood streets.

“It causes really bad, permanent wear [on the streets], and it stresses some of the county areas for financing” to repair the damage, the senator said during the bill’s hearing before the Senate Finance Committee in Annapolis on March 14.

Safety is also an issue, he said, because “trucks are very large and very heavy and they take longer to stop. They’re traveling by homes, by schools and should not be on our residential streets.”

Salling acknowledged that the state stands to lose an estimated $291,000 per year by not making the Broening Highway users pay the fee. He pointed out, though, that that is less than when MdTA lowered the toll rate for EZPass users at the facility.

In addition, MdTA would have to spend $3.5 million to construct the jersey barrier, according to the bill’s fiscal analysis.

He added that $291,000 is a lot of money for small and independent trucking businesses to have to pay, especially when not actually using the bridge.

“Eliminating the tolls for trucks that do not cross over the bridge would be the fair thing to do,” Salling said. “We can save companies and truck drivers from unnecessary expenses, we need to protect our roads from unnecessary wear and, more than anything, we need to protect our kids near the schools.”

Committee chairman Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, said the committee was sympathetic to the concerns about the large trucks going through communities when it heard the bill in 2017. But the testimony from MdTA representatives was that they were looking to develop a long-term solution.

Salling said, though, that he has not heard any specifics from the agency about their plans.

“We really haven’t gotten answers,” he said. “We know what’s happening at the port, and we know what’s going to be happening at Tradepoint Atlantic.”

Tradepoint Atlantic is undergoing the largest industrial redevelopment on the east coast - possibly in the nation - at the 3,000-acre former steel mill at Sparrows Point. And the Port of Baltimore has experienced record growth in recent years, particularly with respect to the amount of cargo moving through the facility.

“You’re talking within five to six years you’re going to have 20,000 jobs,
there are going to be trucks, there are going to be vehicles, it’s going to be a lot of commotion and we would like to see how well we can accommodate them,” Salling said.

Lewis Campion, president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association, also testified in support of the bill, stating that he has spoken with MdTA about their intentions, but they have not given great detail.

Campion noted that the authority’s planned conversion to all-electronic tolling would allow them to develop a “more fair and equitable” solution for trucks only traveling to Broening Highway to access TPA and not actually using the Key bridge. “But more detail I think would be a very important thing,” he said.

He said he appreciated Salling continuing to introduce the bill “because it is a big challenge - it is a neighborhood challenge because there’s only one local route that doesn’t require a toll if you want to access Tradepoint Atlantic from the Port of Baltimore, and that route actually does go down an expressway where there is a school.”

While no one testified against the bill, the committee also did not offer much reason for optimism.

Chairman Middleton simply called the legislation a “perennial bill.”

“I applaud you for not giving up,” he told Salling.

Salling told the East County Times that the bill has never made it out of committee, but he has been working with the Finance Committee’s members to try to get it voted on and passed for an eventual floor vote.

“It’s still in question, but I’m hoping we can get it out of committee,” he said.

If the bill does not progress this year, Salling said he will try for a study of the issue in the next session to determine the best way to address it. read more

Public health physician Beilenson sets eyes on school board position

Public health physician Beilenson sets eyes on school board position
(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Peter Beilenson is well known in the Baltimore metropolitan area for his work as a physician, health commissioner and health insurance administrator.

So his announcement that he is running to represent the Fifth Councilmanic District on the Baltimore County Board of Education might seem a little out of place. But Beilenson sees the scope of his medical background as a perfect fit for the role he seeks on the school board.

“A lot of my work over the years has focused on school-age children,” he said in a phone interview with the East County Times. “Whether I was working on school-based health initiatives, like increasing the amount of vaccinated kids from 60 percent to 99.8 percent and reducing lead poisoning by 94 percent, or advocating for healthy foods in cafeterias, I have a lot of experience in working for school-aged children.”

Beilenson has lived in west Towson for five years and lived in Baltimore city for 25 years before that. He served in the high-profile positions of Baltimore city health commissioner and health officer for Howard County before serving as president and CEO of Evergreen Health, a nonprofit health insurance cooperative which provided both health insurance and health care delivery.

In addition to his extensive medical background, Beilenson also has 42 seasons of youth sports coaching to his credit and teaches at Johns Hopkins University.

The California native moved with his family to Maryland during his senior year in high school, and he graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Montgomery County. He received his undergraduate degree at Harvard College and earned his medical degree at Emory University School of Medicine. Beilenson came to Baltimore to serve his internship in family medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center and decided to stay in the area after completing his residency in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In running for the county school board, Beilenson said he has three main priorities.

The first is hiring a “first-rate superintendent who will be transparent with staff and parents,” he said, adding that the selection of a new leader for the schools should be undertaken after December when the new board is seated.

Secondly, Beilenson would work to increase the number of professionals working in the system.

“I would decrease class size by hiring more teachers,” he said. “And then I would increase the number of social workers, psychologists and pupil personnel workers so that behavioral problems could be handled outside the classroom and teachers can concentrate on teaching.”

The candidate’s third priority would be to ensure that children are prepared for school, “whether that means kids are ready for kindergarten through universal pre-k or they are prepared to learn in the afternoon of a school day after having a free lunch to fuel them for the rest of the day.”

Beilenson believes many of the experiences of his past positions lend themselves well to what he sees as his work on the school board. He has extensive experience lobbying for funding at the national, state and local levels of government, as well as developing, administering and managing large, nine-figure budgets.

“And perhaps most importantly, I’m used to looking at data before making recommendations or decisions,” he said. “While some people might speak from emotion or other bias, I use facts and data to reach conclusions and offer potential solutions.”

Beilenson also has a personal interest in serving on the school board. He is the father of five children ranging in age from 12 to 32, and his youngest son attends Dumbarton Middle School in Towson.

“I enjoy teaching, I enjoy coaching, I enjoy working with children and I enjoy public service,” he said. “I think serving on the Board of Education is the next logical step in serving my community.” read more

County Council approves PUD resolution for country club property

County Council approves PUD resolution for country club property
This artist's rendering shows the conceptual plan for the Country Club Estates development at Sparrows Point Country Club. The plan shows two entrances on Wise Avenue and one on Grays Road. Image courtesy of Conor Gilligan.
(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The Baltimore County Council voted 7-0 Monday night to allow county review of a planned unit development application to build up to 312 homes on Sparrows Point Country Club property.

Submitted to the group by Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), the application requests permission to build a community to be known as Country Club Estates, to include townhouses, single-family homes and “age-targeted” villas, in three separate neighborhoods totaling about 76 acres of the roughly 271-acre property bordered by Wise Avenue and Grays Road in Dundalk.

“This is an exciting project for the community of Dundalk,” Crandell told his colleagues. “This fits in with a vision that includes re-creation of our job base, which is occurring at Tradepoint Atlantic, the revitalization of our commercial corridors and the improvement of our housing stock.”

Two Dundalk residents, both running for political office, spoke out against the plan.

Dave Rader, a Republican who is hoping to unseat Crandell on the council, said he is concerned that many communities were left out of the communication process as the development of the plan played out, including his own community of Norwood-Holabird.

Dundalk resident Scott Collier, an unaffiliated candidate running for the Sixth District State Senate seat, said he is worried that “our community is over-saturated now” and believes the Dundalk area does not have sufficient open space.

“So I would have rather seen this property turned into some kind of park,” he told the council. “It is in a beautiful location and [we would] have it where it would have access for the community.”

Conor Gilligan, vice president of Craftsmen Developers, said Tuesday he is confident that he communicated with all relevant local community organizations, and even talked with groups farther away if that community’s schools would be affected by the new housing.

Craftsmen has partnered with the country club in this venture. The club did not sell the land outright to Craftsmen and will share equally in risks and profit. In turn, the club’s profit will be reinvested in the club’s amenities, including a new club house and new irrigation system for the golf course, according to club President Ron Belbot.

The club’s membership, and therefore its income, is dwindling, Belbot has said. They see the partnership with Craftsmen as a way to preserve the bulk of the club’s property, as opposed to the real possibility the club could fail financially and be forced to sell the entire parcel for potential development, Belbot told the East County Times in December.

Now that the PUD resolution has been approved, Craftsmen officials will begin the process of submitting a detailed concept plan, according to Gilligan.

To satisfy tougher standards of the PUD, the concept plan has to be more detailed than usual and must include specifics on architectural details, community amenities and landscape and streetscape designs.

The company will also submit an application for growth allocation, which will request permission to convert a resource conservation area (RCA) to an intense development area (IDA).

“In order to change the designation, you need to prove you are bettering the quality of the Chesapeake Bay,” Gilligan said. “This... tract gives us lots of opportunity for reforestation, wetlands enhancement and shoreline improvement that will go a long way to improve the quality of the water.”

He noted that the country club does not have any stormwater management facilities on the property.

“I can’t provide stormwater management for the entire property, but we will provide it for our development, which will help the quality of the bay immensely,” he said.

While much work remains before construction can begin, Gilligan believes building can start in the summer of 2019, with homes selling as early as the first quarter in 2020.

Community members will be kept informed of the process and be able to comment, with at least one more public input meeting to be held after the concept plan is submitted, Gilligan said.

Times reporter Patrick Taylor contributed to this article. read more

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 on March 19 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. read more

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.” read more

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. read more

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

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. read more

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

Delegate Grammer’s BCPS audit bill dies in Baltimore County House Delegation
The State House in Annapolis. File photo.
(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.” read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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.” read more

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 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.” read more

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. read more

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.” read more

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.” read more

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. read more

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.” read more

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.” read more

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.” read more

‘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. read more

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.” read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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

Parents, local officials put the heat on BCPS over discipline issues
Verletta White (center) took multiple trips to Annapolis this year to provide answers to lawmakers. Her answers then and in subsequent follow-ups have left many local delegates feeling slighted. File photo.
(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. read more

‘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.” read more

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.” read more

Nonagenarian recognized for work to honor veterans, first responders

Nonagenarian recognized for work to honor veterans, first responders
State Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (center) presented Catherine Hughes (right), 95, with a Maryland state flag and a Maryland Senate citation for her efforts to honor veterans and first responders. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A 95-year-old Perry Hall woman has for the last few years written cards and letters to active service members and military veterans, as well as police and firefighters, thanking them for their service.

And on Saturday, Jan. 27, state Senator Kathy Klausmeier presented her with a Maryland state flag and a Senate citation recognizing her efforts to honor those who protect and serve the community.

According to Joseph Hughes, son of Catherine Hughes, his mother has written at least 3,000 notes and cards to “American heroes.”

“She sits at our kitchen table virtually every day and writes dozens of cards and notes,” he said.

Klausmeier said while presenting the citation to Mrs. Hughes that there comes a time in everyone’s life when there is something you want to do that is special.

“And today is that time,” she said. “On behalf of everyone that you’ve ever sent a letter to - a little note to brighten up the day - thank you very much.”

“I did it from my heart and I love doing it,” Mrs. Hughes said, adding that even after sometimes hours of writing them she never gets tired from doing it.

She told the East County Times that a friend buys the cards for her and she writes in them, inscribing messages to veterans and first responders of how they are heroes and thanking them for their service.

Mrs. Hughes noted that she was a former duckpin bowling champion at the age of 91, but at 92 she suffered an injury while bowling that limited her mobility.

Seeing that she felt depressed, a friend got her started writing the cards to give her something uplifting to do, she said.

“It helped me so much to write these cards,” Mrs. Hughes said. “I put my heart in it.”

Although she has now recovered from her injury, she continues to write the letters and cards because she loves doing it, sometimes handing them out in person.

Mrs. Hughes even visited a local restaurant to hand out cards and thank veterans and first responders in person on Veterans Day last year.

She plans to continue writing and giving out the cards as long as she can, she told the Times, and noted that she had written about 70 in the few days leading up to getting the citation.

“I do it because I want to,” she said.

Mrs. Hughes is the daughter of Italian immigrants, according to her son, Joseph. She and her late husband - who served as a field medic in World War II and participated in the D-Day invasion - married when he returned home from the war.

“For Catherine Hughes, a super nonagenarian and patriot, her benevolent and caring ways should be a challenge to all Americans,” Joseph said. “Keep patriotism in your heart, and remember to thank the men and women who protect and defend our way of life.” read more

Tradepoint officials to ‘respectfully’ move 1800s family plot

Tradepoint officials to ‘respectfully’ move 1800s family plot
The burial plot is located near the intersection of I Street and 9th Street at the center of the Tradepoint Atlantic property. Some community members wondered why Bethlehem Steel was able to simply build around the graveyard and TPA is unwilling. And a TPA representative wondered why the graves were not relocated when the company town was razed in the 1970s. Courtesy photo.
(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

When members of the Trotten family were laid to rest on the family farm at the tip of Sparrows Point in the early to mid-1800s, their final resting spots overlooked the Patapsco River from a pastoral, bucolic vantage point.

More than 200 years later, those graves are in the middle of a heavily industrial site, where the lay of the land has been greatly altered thanks to the dumping of slag - a by-product of the steelmaking process - that created artificial land and extended shorelines.

“The land mass has been drastically altered and the site characteristics have been dramatically changed over these now nearly 200 years,” said Aaron Tomarchio, vice president of corporate affairs for Tradepoint Atlantic, which owns the former steel mill property.

Out of respect for the interred remains and because of a business need to build on the land, Tradepoint officials have begun the legal process to exhume and rebury the remains of four Trotten family members buried on the site, according to Tomarchio.

The company, which will cover all the costs of the relocation, must follow a stringent legal process to move the remains, he said. The plan to move the graves must be published in a local news outlet in an effort to notify any next-of-kin and to make the public aware of the plans.

Tomarchio said efforts already made to find local descendants of the Trottens have been unfruitful, although one relative was found “out west.”

A funeral director will be hired to be in charge of the process and to supervise the work as the graves are unearthed, Tomarchio said.

“From all the research we’ve done, we expect there will probably be very little to no remains to be found,” Tomarchio said.

Citing the funeral practices and procedures of the time, Tomarchio said company officials have been told to just expect areas of darkened dirt that would indicate where the bodies once rested.

“We will respectfully remove that dirt and place it in smaller vessels and then place them in a new grave,” Tomarchio said. “And we will have a new marker made that will list all four of the family members.”

A history of Sparrows Point compiled by Community College of Baltimore County faculty member Bill Barry for the Historical Society of Baltimore County in 2014, lists the buried family members as John Trotten, who died in 1809 at age 38; Sarah Trotten, who died in 1856 at 68; James Trotten, who was nine months old when he died in 1804; and Thomas Long, who died in 1823 at 16.

The new marker, at the request of community members, will also note the remains were originally interred on Sparrows Point, according to Tomarchio, who added Tradepoint officials are in talks with a Dundalk cemetery about the relocation and reinterment of the remains.

The original grave stones are fragile and worn and are difficult to read; one is damaged, according to Tomarchio. Tradepoint officials plan to preserve them, with some early discussion about either Todd’s Inheritance or the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society taking custody of them.

Fran Taylor, a member of the Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site’s Board of Directors, said his group has not yet formally discussed the suggestion, but he believes the historic house on North Point Road in Edgemere would be an appropriate place to preserve the stones.

A Todd family tree on display at the Todd’s Inheritance house lists a Mary Trotten-Todd, which shows the two local families were connected by marriage.

While Taylor believes board members would be amenable to hosting the stones, he also said there are many options for their display.

A Todd family plot is on site, and is administered by Oak Lawn Cemetery, which would have to approve displaying the markers there.

“And of course, we wouldn’t do anything in the plot without getting the approval of the Todd family,” Taylor said.

Given the age and delicacy of the stones, the best way to preserve them would probably be with an indoor display, Taylor believes. In any case, he said, there is much discussion yet to be held before reaching a final decision.

Once the Trotten family remains have been exhumed and are ready for reburial, Tradepoint will hold a graveside service, likely in March or April, for the reinterment, according to Tomarchio.

“We want to hold a service that community members can attend,” he said. “And I believe this move will be much more respectful of these individuals and will preserve their memories much longer than remaining in an unmaintained graveyard at an industrial site.” read more

Glen Arm neighbors object to plans for Nepali-American worship center

Glen Arm neighbors object to plans for Nepali-American worship center
The Glen Arm estate, once belonging to a distant relative of Napoleon Bonaparte, sold in March 2017 for $661,000. Photo courtesy of
(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

What once was a country estate in Glen Arm owned by a distant relative of Napoleon Bonaparte is now envisioned as a house of worship for Hindu and Buddhist families from Nepal.

“It’s the first of its kind in Baltimore County,” said Kris Ghimire, a realtor based in Fullerton who started a fundraising drive more than a year ago to find a location for the future Nepali American Cultural Center of Baltimore.

The 31-acre site at 12231 Harford Road is located across from the entrance to Bonaparte Avenue and south of the newly competed Mt. Vista Road traffic circle. Nearby on Mt. Vista Road are the Beachmont Christian summer camp and the Redeemer church and school.

The property at one time belonged to Charles Joseph Bonaparte, who served as the U.S. Attorney General from 1906 to 1909 and founded the agency that would become the FBI. the original house burned down but was later replaced with a concrete house.

The Nepali group bought the property last year as a foreclosure, and in order to open the center the purchasers needed to apply to Baltimore County for a special exception that allows a worship center in a rural area.

At a public hearing on Jan. 17, Nepalis and supporters filled one half of the room, while immediate neighbors opposed to the project filled the other. Reviewers with county agencies did not object to the plan.

On Jan. 22, county Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen granted the special exception with conditions that require county-approved well and septic systems, an access permit from the State Highway Administration, and a sign with the center’s name posted at the entrance.

Rulings can be appealed to Baltimore County Circuit Court, and a group of neighbors organized as the Gunpowder Falls Watershed Preservation Association was considering an appeal as of Monday, Feb. 5.

Ghimire and Harford Road neighbor Dewey Clark, who spoke on behalf of the association neighbors at the hearing, also spoke with each other on Monday and discussions are expected to continue.

Contentious hearing
At the three-hour hearing, Clark questioned Ghimire about plans for the center, followed by more than half a dozen other neighbors citing concerns about well capacity, crowds at special events and additional traffic on an already dangerous stretch of Harford Road, which has two sharp turns nears the site’s entrance.

Resident Scott Striebinger, president of the Greater Mt. Vista Association, asked for caps on the number of people to visit the center at any one time.

He also argued that the local geology could not handle another large well and  septic system, citing efforts in the past to cap activity at the Beachmont property.

“We do live in the area, we have got to protect our investment,” he said.

Some neighbors on Harford and Hutschenreuter roads and Bonaparte Avenue also took exception to the fact that the Nepali group had not directly alerted them in advance about a two-day outdoor fundraising event last summer that attracted people from around the region.

Neighbors complained about the noise, heavy traffic and visitors driving into a local driveway.

A complaint was subsequently filed with county Code Enforcement alleging the center was being used without a permit, but the inspector concluded that the event was outdoors and the house itself was not yet fully renovated or operational.

Ghimire said he had met with the Greater Kingsville Civic Association and thought that a local neighbor who attended would relay information about the center.

At the hearing he said that no more fundraisers are planned and that he did not expect more than about 150 people on site at any one time.

That is in part due to the fact that, unlike other religions that meet for group prayer on certain days, Hindus and Buddhists can visit a temple any time on any day.

“There’s no set worship times; it’s more of a personal thing,” he said. “People arrive and depart on their own schedule through the week.”

He said an imprecise Google map contributed to some visitors getting lost last summer and that since then Google was contacted and the map has been remedied.

Ghimire also said a right turn only out of the center’s driveway onto Harford Road might help alleviate concerns about the potential for accidents at the turns.

The center plans to host an open house once it opens and is also working with the Kingsville association to preserve the original carriage house on the property, he said.

Located between India and China, Nepal is about the size of Iowa. It is home to Mt. Everest and the birthplace of the Buddha.

There is an existing Hindu-Jain temple in Finksburg, but Hinduism and Buddhism are uniquely intertwined in Nepal, which is why some local Nepalis were interested in opening their own center.

Ghimire estimated there are more than 5,000 people from Nepal living in the Baltimore area, drawn in part by the opportunities to open small businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and small shops in malls.

An immigrant himself, Ghimire came to the U.S. in 1998 to study information technology at UMBC in Catonsville. He became the IT director of a mortgage company and later founded his own mortgage company. He then founded his own real estate company after the 2008 recession. read more

Deadlines loom for appointed, elected Board of Education hopefuls

Deadlines loom for appointed, elected Board of Education hopefuls
Julie Henn (left), Edward Kitlowski and William Feuer have each filed as BOE elected candidates in eastside districts.
(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With filing and application deadlines looming for both elected and appointed positions on the Baltimore County Board of Education, interest so far appears to be lukewarm.

Baltimore County residents who wish to run for elected seats have until 9 p.m. on Feb. 27 to file their candidacies. Residents seeking a political appointment to the school board have until March 16 to submit applications.

By way of legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2014 and 2017, the board that takes office Dec. 3 will be the first in the county to have elected members. All previous members have been political appointments, leaving many residents to believe they were beholden to elected leaders and not necessarily looking out for the best interests of the school system and county residents, according to reports during the process to change the law.

All current board members’ terms expire Dec. 2, regardless of when they were appointed, according to Debi Decker, a Baltimore County Public Schools employee who is facilitating the application process for the selection committee.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 6, only five candidates had filed to run for elected positions, with one each in the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh councilmanic districts. Sitting board member Julie Henn, as well as Edward Kitlowski and William Feuer are running in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh districts, respectively, on the east side of Baltimore County.

June Eaton, current Seventh District board member, told the East County Times she will neither run for reelection nor seek an appointment. Sixth District representative Steve Verch and Fifth District representative and board Chairman Edward Gilliss did not respond to questions regarding their future school board intentions.

Residents who wish to apply for an appointment to the school board must submit an application by March 16, according to a statement from the school system.

Public candidate interviews will be held at five locations around the county, including May 7 at Perry Hall High School and June 4 at Dundalk High School. Times have not been announced.

The newly created Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission, led by Chairman Aaron Plymouth, will select nominees to recommend to Gov. Larry Hogan for appointment to the four at-large positions, according to the statement.

The 19-member commission has a roster that represents a variety of organizations and interests, including the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, Towson University, Student Council, PTA Council, NAACP, Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters, according to the BCPS website.

The commission met for the first time on Dec. 4, according to Plymouth, and a second planned meeting was canceled because of inclement weather. As a result, many logistics of the process have yet to be ironed out.

“I like to say we have entered uncharted waters and we’re taking a brand new ship out for its first voyage,” Plymouth said of the creation of a hybrid school board. “But so far, the waters have been pretty calm.”

The chairman said he and his commission colleagues are looking forward to receiving a “good number” of qualified applicants and recommending the best of those candidates for appointment after carrying out a “flexible, transparent and accountable” process.

The law states that the commission must submit two nominees for each opening, so the group will send eight names to Gov. Hogan for his consideration, according to Plymouth. In addition, should no one file to run in an individual councilmanic district for an elected position, the commission would be charged with sending the names of two nominees to fill a councilmanic vacancy.

Applicants interested in an appointment to the school board must submit their applications by 4 p.m. Friday, March 16. The application form can be found on the school system’s website.

Completed applications can be mailed to the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission, c/o Debi Decker, 6901 N. Charles St., Towson, MD 21204. read more