Councilmen upset anew over Smith nomination

Choice of Schmidt for development oversight seen as troublesome

April 11, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s latest high-profile appointment could be in trouble after six of seven County Council members said they have not committed to supporting Lawrence E. Schmidt for director of Permits and Development Management, the post charged with code enforcement, permits and zoning.

Despite the difficulty Smith recently had with his nominee for the county's No. 2 administrative post, the executive did not first line up the four council votes he needs for Schmidt's confirmation.

Yesterday, some members expressed doubts about whether Schmidt is the right person for the job.

The episode is the latest in a series of run-ins between the council and the executive. Since taking office in December, they have sparred over interpretation of a charter amendment, Smith's personnel moves and a bill to change county budget procedure.

Schmidt, the county's zoning commissioner for more than 10 years, would replace Arnold Jablon, who will retire in June after decades with the county.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said he's heard complaints from community groups that Schmidt is too pro-development.

"We were at a meeting last night down at the Essex/Middle River Community Council and people there were basically complaining about the decisions that the zoning commissioner has made in regard to development issues," Bartenfelder said.

"I'm sitting there thinking, `You're going to make the zoning commissioner that everybody is complaining about in charge of the whole development process?'"

Schmidt declined to comment, noting that he has not been formally nominated yet. But Smith's chief of staff, Gregory Pecoraro, said the executive has great confidence in Schmidt.

"He's got a lot of very valuable experience, and he's somebody that is certainly well known to the council and to both the community associations and the development community, and Jim thinks he's been very fair," Pecoraro said.

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat, said he agreed and has told the executive that he would support Schmidt.

But none of the other council members has made that commitment. And even those who have generally been supportive of the executive said they are perplexed by his handling of the appointment.

Several of the council members said they were contacted by the executive months ago about their suggestions for the post, and many of them said they recommended Raymond S. "Rick" Wisnom Jr., the long-time head of the county's Code Inspections and Enforcement Division.

None of them said he had discussed Schmidt in detail with Smith.

"It's kind of frustrating," said Councilman John A. Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat. "You know all the other [department heads] they sent up, we let through pretty easy, I thought. But then to ask the council members for a suggestion for this one and six, maybe seven, of the council members said Rick Wisnom, and not to go with the council's recommendation, I don't understand why he even asked us in the first place."

Councilmen Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, and Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, said they took their colleagues' concerns seriously.

Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, said he thought Schmidt was an excellent zoning commissioner but he questioned whether Schmidt has the political ability he would need.

So far, every department head the executive has nominated has been approved unanimously by the council.

His intended nominee for County Administrative Officer, Beverley Swaim-Staley, withdrew her name from consideration last month after the council balked at the $140,000 salary Smith promised her.

After Swaim-Staley withdrew, council members said publicly and privately that such problems could be avoided if Smith would consult them before announcing appointments.

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