Week In Review

December 04, 2005

Meetings

Advisory sessions open to the public

Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay will open meetings of his 23-member citizens advisory council to the public, the department said this week.

The decision came after a Sun report questioned whether the closed-door advisory sessions violated Maryland's open-meetings law. Subsequently, a citizen filed a complaint with the state's three-member board that monitors compliance with the law.

Last year, the General Assembly expanded the definition of a "public body" to include advisory groups that are created by department heads, such as planning and zoning directors and police and fire chiefs.

Livesay took two factors into consideration before deciding this week to open meetings of his advisory council to the public: State law now requires it, and his predecessor, County Executive James N. Robey, told him that he never considered the meetings closed during his 11-year tenure in the job.

"There has been a misunderstanding over the past few years," said Victoria Goodman, Robey's spokeswoman. Livesay "thought he was in line with what his predecessor had done."

As a result of this week's announcement, the council's meetings will be open to anyone and information about them posted in advance. Minutes also will be published in compliance with Maryland's recently strengthened "sunshine" laws. The first such meeting will be held Wednesday.

Livesay's decision puts his council's policies in line with other police departments and school districts in the region. It is unclear, however, whether opening the meetings will change the group's effectiveness or the candor of its discussions, said Bill Volenick, an advisory council member.

"Council members go through the citizens' police academy, go on ride-alongs with officers and assist with sobriety checkpoints, all of which puts us in a position to understand the workings of the department," he said. "I fear people will bring up complaints that have nothing to do with the purpose of the council, and that we'll be overwhelmed with one-person issues. But time will tell. We'll have to wait and see."

Howard section, Friday, Dec. 2, Page 1G

General Assembly

Public hearing held on 19 proposed bills

State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman is sponsoring a Howard County bill proposed for the General Assembly that aims to amend the Maryland Constitution to prevent the county from condemning private property for urban renewal.

"That's a real slippery slope, if we start saying that the government should decide what's the most productive use of the property," Kittleman said at a public hearing this week on 19 bills the Howard delegation is proposing for the session.

The bills include a $500,000 state bond request for the expansion of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center and a proposal to reduce the local income tax rate from 3.2 percent to 3 percent.

Seven of the bills, including one that aims to reduce local property taxes for senior citizens, are repeats from last year's session.

Kittleman said his legislation, which would narrow the county's ability to condemn property, is a response to a recent Supreme Court decision allowing the condemnation of Connecticut homes for a private economic development project.

But Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said the county does not have a history of abusing its ability to condemn land. She said she doesn't imagine the county would ever take land where an active business or someone's home sits.

She said there are some cases where condemnation against the owner's wishes is necessary because the owner is demanding too much money.

Howard section, Friday, Dec. 2, Page 1G

Economy

County sees sustained growth

Howard County's economy continued to grow this year, but not as robustly as expected, and it faces several profound challenges in the future.

Nonetheless, the county remains positioned for sustained expansion barring a deep recession or drastic reduction in federal spending, neither of which is anticipated, said Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority.

"It's a good year," he says. "It was not an outstanding year, but it was good. Would I like more? Absolutely."

The most significant slowdown came in the key category of job creation. Although final, year-end figures will not be available for several months, Story says the number of new jobs in the county will be below projections.

Last year, 2,714 jobs were created in the county, almost twice the number in 2003, swelling the total to 138,485, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

One factor behind the slowdown this year has been that spending by the Department of Homeland Security has not produced the number of jobs anticipated, although Story expects that to improve over the next few years.

The county will also benefit from the closure and realignment of military and defense facilities, which will add 5,300 jobs at Fort Meade, although that process is expected to take at least three years.

Howard section, Wednesday, Nov. 30, Page 1G

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