Smith revives his push for Angelos' assistance

Balto. Co. executive says Orioles owner still is best for revenue board seat

February 02, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Five months after it appeared to die a quiet death, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has revived his push to get Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos on the county's Revenue Authority.

Angelos, a prominent attorney who helped revive downtown Baltimore's west side, is a key component in Smith's vision of a more active Revenue Authority that would encourage commercial revitalization, said Damian O'Doherty, who has recently become Smith's top aide and liaison to the County Council.

"The Revenue Authority can be a powerful tool in bringing a renaissance to our older communities," O'Doherty said. "We hope to have a board that unanimously supports using the authority's resources to further that aim."

O'Doherty said Smith is looking to resolve the issue quickly.

But some wonder why the effort to gain a seat for Angelos has been resurrected. Authority members say they can accomplish Smith's goals with Angelos or without him. And councilmen say sentiment about the nomination has not changed since last summer, when lack of support blocked a vote.

Efforts to reach Angelos for comment last week were unsuccessful.

The wrangling over the nomination was seen as one of the more curious episodes in a year of personnel tussles between the executive and legislative branches of county government. Personality, policy and politics collided over one seat on an agency that oversees a handful of golf courses and parking garages and takes in about $14 million a year.

Pointing to the role Montgomery County's Parking Authority played in the redevelopment of Silver Spring, Smith announced in August that he wanted the Revenue Authority to become a key player in commercial revitalization efforts, and that he wanted to replace Towson attorney Leslie M. Pittler, whose term on the board is expired, with Angelos.

Smith said then that Angelos shares his vision and would bring significant stature and experience to the board, and that Pittler "does not fit the bill." Smith gave no examples of what he wanted the authority, an independent, quasi-governmental body, to do differently, but promised to announce further details in September.

However, five County Council members blocked a vote on Angelos, saying they wanted to continue to have a council representative on the board. For the past five years, that representative has been Pittler.

At the same time, council members made clear that they didn't object to an expanded role for the Revenue Authority or to Angelos personally but wanted a formal role in appointing a member to the board, which would require action by the state legislature. O'Doherty said last week that Smith will not seek such a remedy.

In an effort to break the stalemate, former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly offered in the fall to relinquish his seat on the board, a move he said would allow the council to keep a representative and confirm Angelos. Smith turned him down at the time, and O'Doherty said the executive will not resolve the situation that way now.

September came and went with no mention of the authority, as the administration focused on recovery from Tropical Storm Isabel. To the others involved in the debate, it looked like Smith had dropped the Angelos plan.

Two weeks ago, the Revenue Authority came up again when Smith listed his priorities for the General Assembly session. Among his requests was $2 million in capital funding for infrastructure improvements to support construction of a large office, entertainment and residential complex east of the round- about in downtown Towson.

Smith said later that the authority could help the project by overseeing construction of a parking garage nearby.

Revenue Authority board members said they have built parking garages before and could do it again with their current membership.

Pittler said no one from the administration has asked him whether he would object to the authority being involved in revitalization projects.

"I see nothing wrong with the Revenue Authority looking at those kinds of issues, so if someone out there is saying that a rationale for me not being on the board is that I am opposed, I would say that they're wrong," he said.

Kelly gave a similar assessment of the board's willingness to take on projects Smith suggests.

"If it helps the county and it makes sense, we'll do it, and from what [Smith has] explained, it makes sense what he wants to accomplish here," Kelly said.

The board's chairman, Hanan Y. Sibel, a former wholesale foods distributor, said the Angelos question is one for the council and executive to decide.

"Peter Angelos' name speaks for itself, and his success speaks for itself, but we have built garages without him," Sibel said. "We're capable of doing what we have to do."

The County Council has changed its chairman since August, but that apparently won't help the Angelos nomination.

In August, then-chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, said he would not bring the Angelos nomination to a vote until four other councilmen asked him to.

Since then, Stephen G. Samuel Moxley has taken over as chairman. He said he will follow Kamenetz's policy.

Former County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis, a Democrat who served from 1974 to 1978, said raising the Angelos issue is risky for Smith because it could revive voters' impressions that the executive and council do nothing but bicker.

"The Revenue Authority is irrelevant - folks don't really know it, it doesn't impact that many people's lives. What it does is revive the whole issue between the executive and the council, and that's probably a mistake for both institutions," he said.

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