Council debate over charter commission heats up

By Lauren Cosca
Baltimore Watchdog Staff writer

The Baltimore County Council approved a resolution Tuesday that establishes a special commission that will review and possibly change portions of the county charter – the document that lays the foundation for the local government.

The 5-2 vote came after a heated exchange in which several council members criticized Councilman Wade Kach for spreading what they believed was misinformation about the composition of the commission.

Kach posted a YouTube video recently in which he complained that four of the nine people appointed to the commission by the council and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz were lobbyists for “land use issues.”

In the video, Kach said he was concerned that lobbyist for land developers will be in a position to rewrite the portions of the charter that deal with zoning laws and county procurement policies. He said this will set up a possible conflict of interest that raise questions about whether certain commission members will have the public’s best interest at heart when they are rewriting the charter.

Kach, a Republican from Cockeysville, and Councilmember Todd Crandell, a Republican from Dundalk, both voted against the measure.

But other members of the council disputed claims that the commission’s composition sets up any conflicts, and they criticized Kach for spreading misleading information.

“I’ve always been extremely proud of the way this council has worked together on issues that are important to our constituents,” Councilwoman Vicki Almond said. “We have argued, we have disagreed, we have raised our voices, we have compromised, but we have always communicated with each other, until now.”

Councilman Tom Quirk and other members of the council said they were not aware of Kach’s concerns until they saw an attack ad against the commission’s composition on the Internet.

“At the end of the day we all have to work together and we all have to communicate,” Quirk said.  “We disagree, but I think we do it professionally, and not personally, and Councilman Kach, I think that was out of line.”

Councilman Julian E. Jones Jr. reminded county citizens that any changes to the charter will ultimately be their  choice. He said he supported including lobbyists on the commission because they have a great deal of knowledge and can educate people on topics.

“People have a right under the constitution of the United States to petition their government and they also have the right if they want to come together and hire somebody to petition the government on their behalf,” Jones said. “That’s what this is all about.”

The charter review commission was approved by county voters last November. The charter, which establishes rules such as which powers go to the council and which are assigned to the executive, was last reviewed in 1990.

Under the measure approved last November, the charter will be reviewed once every 10 years. The commission will study the contents of the charter and submit its recommended changes to the council by Oct. 15.

In other action, the council approved a measure that will expand the neighborhoods included in a program created two years ago to curb unruly social gatherings.

The original bill was created to decrease public disturbances in local neighborhoods near the Towson University and UMBC campus. Police and members of the community have already seen a decrease in underage drinking, public urination, excessively loud music, and other disturbances caused by rowdy college students.

The newest version of the program will increase fines for property owners and renters, as well as put more responsibility on the renters of the homes. It will make it harder for people to have gatherings with more than four people, and if caught, they could risk fines, community service, and possibly a loss of lease.

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