New County Council member is a busy man

Calvin Ball is learning on the job, while juggling teaching duties, graduate work and a run for office


Calvin Ball's sudden transformation from candidate to Howard County councilman pulled him from the political periphery into the center of the council's budget review, political fights and tensions. And it is not as if the lanky, seemingly laid-back 30-year-old has nothing else to do.

Ball is the father of a 3-year-old, and his wife, Shani, is expecting in August, Ball said he is juggling part-time teaching duties with his pursuit of an advanced degree in higher education, all while running for political office.

"You've got to just stay focused," said Ball, a Democrat who is running for a full term on the council. "I've cut sleep and recreation. I'll catch up with that in 2008."

Ball was chosen to fill out the term of Councilman David A. Rakes, representing east Columbia and Jessup, after Rakes resigned March 31. Ball was sworn in April 20.

Adam Sachs will oppose Ball in the Democratic primary in September. Republican Gina Ellrich also is a candidate.

Ball's seven months of immersion in county government might give him a leg up in his political quest. But he has had to master a $1.2 billion county operating budget, $336 million worth of capital projects and the intricacies of issues ranging from housing policy to a smoking ban. He has also hired an assistant - Melania Pender of Columbia, who attended Wilde Lake High School and Towson University.

Nearly four weeks into his new job, Ball appears calm, cool and collected. His biggest surprise, he said, is all the help he is getting.

"I guess I didn't expect the level of support I've gotten," he said. "When you're a candidate, it's just you and a few volunteers."

As a councilman, he receives help and advice from his staff, other council members and the Robey administration.

"There's 30 to 40 experts willing to help you," Ball said.

Still, getting up to speed with four other members who have served from nearly four to nearly 14 years on the council has been a daunting task.

"It's been more challenging than I anticipated," he said. "Frankly, the first week and a half, candidate Ball had to take a back seat to Councilman Ball."

Briefing book

Sheila Tolliver, the council's administrator, prepared a briefing book describing the staff and administration officials, how the council works, the open meetings and disclosure laws and how the Zoning Board and Liquor Board work.

Each Howard County Council member serves on the zoning and liquor boards.

Democratic Councilmen Guy Guzzone and Ken Ulman also have helped Ball get acclimated.

Settling in

"We've had lunch many days together," Guzzone said. "I've been bringing him in on meetings in my district, just to show him how to interact with department heads. We talk two or three times a day. Most of it is figuring out the right people to ask" when a question needs answering.

Ulman also has kept in close touch with Ball and shared lunches.

"I took him to one of my District 4 revitalization meetings," Ulman said. "He's taking it all in."

But he is not taking it all in silently.

Although the council rushed through a perfunctory series of departmental budget reviews last week without asking many questions, Ball had some.

When the $580 million school budget was reviewed last week, the former Oakland Mills revitalization coordinator asked Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin about proposed education jobs jeopardized by a $3.6 million funding gap.

"If there was some way to have some of those positions, have you prioritized?" Ball said.

Later, he said he wanted to find a way to give the board money to fill the guidance counselor, school psychologist and custodial jobs at issue.

As the department heads paraded to the council's conference table in the George Howard Building, Ball asked about plans for expanded library hours.

He also asked when development will begin at Blandair Park, a 300-acre tract in his district, about requests for more Health Department nurses, proper manning on firetrucks and how bicycle police officers operate on Columbia's pathways.

Briefly a firefighter, Ball said the tough parts of becoming a council member so late in the four-year term seem tame by comparison.

"I've been blessed to have had some extremely stressful situations," said Ball, adding, "If you can stay calm in a burning building when you're running low on air, this is easy."

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