Within days of the death of former Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz there were rumors swirling around the Historic Courthouse in Towson, the seat of Baltimore County government, that Councilwoman Vicki Almond would be appointed to serve the remainder of Mr. Kamenetz’s term. Predictions were that the vote by the Council to appoint her could come as early as the Council meeting on May 24th. Council Chairman Julian Jones appeared to confirm that something sneaky was afoot when he told the Baltimore Sun on May 15th that the Council that there was not enough time for public input on the decision on who would replace Mr. Kamenetz.
“I do not anticipate any public input, only because of the timeline,” said Jones, although he did not set a date for a decision to be made or explain the rush. “This is the job of the County Council. This is part of the charter. Everyone up here has been elected to do a job and I think it’s important that we do the job.”
The public reaction to Jones’ remarks was predictable, swift, and angry. Baltimore County citizens had seen this all before: A backroom deal sprung on the public with little or no notice or opportunity to be heard.
Suspicions were heightened because of the speculation that a deal already had been done to appoint Ms. Almond, the candidate for County Executive favored by the developers and their lawyers who dominated County politics and land use decision during the Kamenetz administration. In other words, business as usual in Baltimore County.
Mr. Jones had gone out on a limb, only to have it cut off behind him. Within two days he backpedaled and announced that public comment on the selection process would be heard at a meeting of the Council on May 22nd.
We may never know if Mr. Jones made his initial statement without gaining the full support of his Democratic colleagues for his plan to move forward without public input, or if one or more of his colleagues got cold feet after the negative public reaction to his comments and changed their minds. Either way, it was an amateurish mistake that cost Mr. Jones dearly in terms of his credibility as a County leader.
It is hard to believe that Mr. Jones or his colleagues were so tone-deaf about the mood of the citizens in Baltimore County that they failed to anticipate the backlash against the idea of selecting a replacement to Mr. Kamenetz without public input. The citizens of the County are tired of eight years of rigged outcomes in which the interests of ordinary citizens are scarcely considered if they are considered at all.
Maybe Mr. Jones thought that he could pull a Kevin Kamentz and bulldoze the appointment of Ms. Almond through the Council as quickly as possible, worrying about any political fall-out later. The problem with that idea is that Mr. Jones does not have the ability that Mr. Kamenetz had to enforce discipline among Council members through rewards and punishments.
Having stumbled so badly out of the gate, Mr. Jones now must be concerned about making sure that the process used by the Council to select a new County Executive does not look like a charade designed only to appease the public, which would only add insult to injury. I don’t believe that he will be able to achieve that goal if the Council selects Ms. Almond.
In any event, Ms. Almond may no longer want the appointment. She could be leery of an appointment that would be a lightning rod for all the pent-up anger in the County over a County government controlled by special interests that has become almost hostile to its own citizens. Ironically, Mr. Jones could have ruined her chances to get the appointment by his ill-considered remarks to the press.
Unsolicited advice to Mr. Jones: This is not a competition with the Baltimore County Board of Education to see which public body in Towson can handle a personnel decision in the most awkward manner. These decisions are important to the public. Treat them as such.
It was not an impressive performance by Mr. Jones in his first real test as chairman of the County Council. He is going to need to do a lot better in the coming weeks to regain some measure of credibility as a capable leader.
May 19, 2018