The deal is done. After a chat with Montgomery County Council President Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) last week, lobbyist Devin Doolan has signed on to be the council's lobbyist during the General Assembly session that starts next month.
Doolan made it official this week when he added "Montgomery County Council" to his client list on file with the State Ethics Commission. His fee is as yet undetermined. But it will rise or fall based on how big an issue the never-say-die intercounty connector becomes during the session.
The move marks the first time since Sid Kramer was county executive in the late 1980s that the council has hired its own advocate in Annapolis. Back then, Victor L. Crawford lobbied for the council on a variety of issues, but Doolan's role will be more limited. His job: ensure that when the 90-day session ends, the council still has as much power over local land-use policy as it had when the session began.
"There has yet to be any legislation introduced, but I have every reason to believe there will be and it could affect the structure of local government in Montgomery and around the state," said Doolan, who received about $20,000 last year for work he did representing the Montgomery Planning Board. The council plans to piggyback on that contract and pay him more for work he does on its behalf.
The crux of the matter is that, even though Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) theoretically has killed the road proposed to join Interstates 270 and 95 north of the Capital Beltway, the $1 billion project has too much well-placed support to stay dead.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has said he would work to resurrect the 18-mile road--deploying the county's three full-time lobbyists in that cause. At the same time, the council, which has the final say over local land-use decisions, is trying to remove the road from planning maps after five decades. State House leaders--including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany)--have sided with Duncan.
Council members grumble that Duncan, an aspiring gubernatorial candidate, may be too willing to cede county control over land use to promote an issue that could become the signature of a statewide campaign and help support his claim as a friend to business. The connector has been championed by business groups across the state as a way to more closely connect the region's economic centers.
The fight now pits the state's ability to set transportation policy against the council's authority over local land-use decisions. Theories abound on how Miller, Taylor and other connector supporters may tip the fight in their favor: Introduce a bill that requires Duncan's approval before any land reserved for the road could be sold? Or slip through legislation that gives the state more influence over local land-use decisions?
No one knows--yet. But Subin says the council has picked the right guy for the fight.
"[Doolan] understood coming in that there are two issues--the specific issue of the ICC and the broader issue of home rule," Subin said.
Melanie Miller wants you to know that she is not following in her father's footsteps, okay? So quit asking.
The 31-year-old daughter of Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) was elected this month to be president of the Young Democrats of Maryland.
Miller is sales manager for the family business, B.K. Miller, a wholesale distributor. She said her interest in politics is to get behind candidates, not to be one herself.
"People are always asking me about my political aspirations," she said. "Because I grew up with it, I know that you can be just as powerful behind the ranks without being in the limelight."
Miller, who lives in Upper Marlboro, said she intends to use the one-year position to help bring new leaders to the Democratic Party. She said the party has not done a good job of reaching out to young people.
Any advice for the county pols?
"My hope," she said of the current elected leaders, "is they work more as a team."
Gilchrest for McCain
U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.) has been named chairman of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in Maryland. Gilchrest, who represents the Eastern Shore, is a leading environmentalist in Congress and also has been an advocate of campaign finance reform, a key plank in McCain's platform.
"I know that as more people in Maryland get to know John McCain, they will see that he is a reformer, a proven leader and the best candidate in this race for the White House," Gilchrest said.
Ethics in Anne Arundel
After a series of questions about conflicts of interest among Anne Arundel County officials, members of the County Council have started drafting a new ethics law, which they hope to propose early next year.
One of those working to draft the new statute is council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman (D-Glen Burnie), who has become embroiled in an ethics quandary himself.
During budget season in May, Klosterman quizzed county officials about construction being done at the detention center and about the possibility that the county would build airplane hangars at a small airport near Fort Meade.
But the company doing the work at the jail--and vying for work on the hangars--happens to be a longtime client of Klosterman's small accounting firm. The current ethics law prohibits council members from participating in any discussion of matters in which they may have a financial interest.
Still, some council members wondered whether Klosterman should be required to keep quiet during the budget debate, because his questions dealt with cost overruns and other matters aimed at saving the county money.
"Was it improper for him to question things in the budget that might benefit the county?" asked council member Barbara Samorajczyk (D-Annapolis). "These are just the kinds of things we need to clarify."
Betsy K. Dawson, executive director of the county's Ethics Commission, said the code is, in some cases, difficult to follow and agreed it needs to be revised. She said she will take part in the council discussions scheduled for Jan. 13, where Samorajczyk, Klosterman and council member A. Shirley Murphy are expected to look at draft amendments.
Howard's Fire Districts
Howard County legislators are considering a request from the county executive to change the way residents are taxed for fire and other emergency services.
County Executive James N. Robey (D) wants members of the county's delegation to introduce legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session that would let the county switch from two fire tax districts to one. Currently, residents pay a fire and rescue tax separate from their property tax, and the county is divided into two fire tax districts--rural and metropolitan.
The idea to combine the districts first popped up in 1993, pushed by then-County Executive Charles I. Ecker (R). The legislative delegation killed it after protest from western county residents, who were paying among the lowest fire taxes. At the time, the county had six fire districts, which were created in 1955 to help fire companies cover costs. After the failed attempt to create a single district, County Council members then created two fire tax districts, designated by the areas served by public water and sewer (the metropolitan district) and those that weren't (the rural district). Currently, the metropolitan district tax rate is 27 cents per $100 of assessed value, the rural district rate, 22 cents.
Now, after a committee assigned to look at the issue presented a report Dec. 13 to Robey, he said the time is right to try again.
"It is time to eliminate the two-district system and create countywide equity among taxpayers," Robey said.
"We are a single county delivering a single service, and we all should be sharing the cost equally of that service," added budget administrator Ray Wacks.
The timing is key because officials want a unified tax district to help cover the operating costs of a new fire station in the western part of the county. With a unified district, the entire county would help pay the estimated $1.5 million annual operating costs of the new station, planned for Glenwood. If the rural district paid the bill on its own, residents would see an annual increase of 20 cents per $100 in the fire tax by 2004, when the station is expected to be up and running, officials said.
But not everyone in the delegation is enthusiastic about Robey's plan. Some officials aren't keen on the idea of eastern residents, who have been paying more than western residents for years, now having to help foot the bill for the new western fire station.
"It's very unfair to change it now . . . to bail out the west," said state Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard), who is co-chairman of the delegation. Pendergrass supported the single tax district in 1993 when she was a County Council member. She said she also would eliminate the fire tax and instead have fire and rescue services paid for out of the General Fund as other services are.
For now, Pendergrass and the rest of the delegation are pondering whether to consider Robey's request at all. The delegation's deadline for filing bill requests was Oct. 19, and legislators already have held hearings on pending bills. The delegation co-chairman, state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe (R-Howard), says it's unlikely that Robey's request will get very far in the General Assembly session.
"Even if we do decide to have this as a late file bill, it will be a challenge to get it approved by the delegation," McCabe said, citing past controversy and the complexity of the issue.
Delegation members will decide whether to take up the bill before they meet in mid-January in Annapolis.