After the “Rally for Honest Government” in Towson on the anniversary of “Treegate,” Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach reiterated his desire for an audit of the removal of 30 mature trees from county-owned property at the intersection of York Road and Bosley Avenue that was ordered by the administration of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
Mr. Kach, a Republican who represents Timonium and areas north, explained that his efforts have been frustrated to date by what he described as the lack of support for an audit by a majority of the County Council. (“Protesters decry lack of transparency on anniversary of Treegate,” The Towson Flyer, April 2, 2018.)
I have an idea, Mr. Kach: Introduce a council resolution calling for the audit.
Formally introducing a resolution will require the council to hold a public hearing, debate the measure at an open meeting and, most importantly, take a vote that allows citizens to see where each member of the council stands on the issue. Let the chips fall where they may within the context of an open and honest process — for once.
My hunch, based on recent history, is that all three Republicans on the council would vote for an audit, meaning that one Democrat would have to vote in favor of the resolution for the audit to be approved. One of those Democrats, Councilwoman Vicki Almond, happens to be running for county executive.
In my opinion, the citizens of the county need to find out where all the candidates for county executive stand on openness, transparency and accountability in county government — something strikingly deficient during the current administration. Ms. Almond will let us know where she stands when she casts her vote on the resolution calling for the audit.
And, make no mistake about it, the situation cries out for an audit, if not a full-scale investigation. The property from which the trees were removed is under a contract of sale to a private developer, Caves Valley Partners. The trees were ordered removed by County Administrative Officer Fred Homan despite the condition placed on the development of the property by the county council that the trees be retained. The trees would have served as a partial buffer of the proposed commercial development from the street.
It might come as a surprise to the Kamenetz administration that the duty of the executive branch of county government is to carry out the intent of the county council and to enforce state and county laws, not to do the opposite.
The money used to pay the contractor to cut down the trees came from funds appropriated for general landscaping of county parks and other property — not for preparing sites for private development. In fact, the contract of sale for the property calls for the property to be sold “as is.”
In other words, the removal of the trees was not required by the contract, and the sole purpose for the removal appears to be circumventing the condition placed on development by the council. The removal of the trees certainly violated the spirit of state and county forest conservation law, and an investigation is underway by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to determine if the removal violated the letter of the law. It might come as a surprise to the Kamenetz administration that the duty of the executive branch of county government is to carry out the intent of the county council and to enforce state and county laws, not to do the opposite.
It is worth pointing out that the administration also ordered the demolition of existing structures on the property even though the county was under no obligation to do so to satisfy the conditions of sale. Where did that money come from to demolish the structures, and what was the justification for spending it for the benefit of a private developer?
Whether it involves Baltimore County Public Schools or the county government, there seems to be an allergy to audits in Towson. If so, I hope Mr. Kach will take an antihistamine and act: Stop talking about an audit; do something about it. Introduce the necessary resolution. If you can’t get council staff to draft it, I will draft it for you, no strings attached — something else that is unusual in Baltimore County.
[Published as an op ed by The Towson Flyer on April 4, 2018 but not posted to my blog until June 1, 2018. The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]