Council ends term on a cordial note

Cable licensing and school construction are among final topics tackled by panel

October 18, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

The seven members of the Anne Arundel County Council wrapped up the final meeting of their four-year term this week by passing two cable licensing agreements, approving fund transfers for school construction projects and extending an existing community revitalization law.

They also ended on a cordial note - a tone that the four Republicans and three Democrats have tried to maintain throughout the sometimes turbulent term.

"It has been a pleasure to serve with this council," said two-term Democratic Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, who is running for the House of Delegates, at Monday night's meeting.

Others agreed. "We didn't let partisanship get in the way," said Republican Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale.

Since a wave of Republicans swept in four years ago, the council has disagreed on matters such as zoning, spending and affordable housing. They also clashed with County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat, during lean budget seasons early in the term.

But on Monday, they praised generally much-improved relations since 2002 as a reason for getting so much done.

In the past four years, the council approved an expansive rewrite of the county's land-use laws, supported community revitalization efforts in North County, prohibited roadside panhandling for minors and increased fines for Critical Area violations.

In 2004, members approved "town center" developments in Parole, Odenton and Glen Burnie in an effort to direct future growth into areas that have adequate roads and other infrastructure in place.

That legislation spurred the start of construction of the $400 million Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole. This week, three developers announced plans for a $150 million transit-oriented development in Odenton, which will serve as the cornerstone for the Odenton Town Center.

Not all was friendly. Before record real-estate tax revenues swelled the county coffers, the council and Owens faced off over budget priorities. In 2003, the council rejected a pay raise for five unions; Owens responded by laying off 16 police officers and two clerical staff members.

But much has changed since November 2002, when the council was controlled by five Democrats and marred by infighting and distrust. A year earlier, three of the seven council members spoke of their e-mails mysteriously vanishing, requested changes to their locks and asked for secret codes to keep their phone messages private.

Shortly after the Republicans took control of the council in 2002, the new majority of Edward R. Reilly, Ronald C. Dillon Jr., C. Edward Middlebrooks and Vitale vowed to maintain a more hospitable climate.

The council still had its tense moments, most of them spurred by Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat.

Samorajczyk's often sharp and lengthy criticisms of the Owens administration - on topics that included zoning changes, hiring decisions and spending - chilled her relationship with the county executive and won her few projects for her district.

"Barbs is always fun because I never know what she's talking about," said Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican who is running unopposed for a second term on the council.

Samorajczyk, a candidate for the House of Delegates, kept her farewell comments brief. "It's truly been an honor," she said.

The council's third Democrat, Bill D. Burlison, is stepping aside after two terms, likely ending the political career of the former Missouri congressman, an ally of Owens. The 75-year-old Odenton resident was not in attendance Monday as the final votes were called.

In the business portion of its meeting, the council approved licensing extensions for Comcast Corp. and Millennium Digital Media and signed off on the capital improvement program for the county Board of Education. The council also approved the transfer of $2.25 million for projects at Tracey's Elementary and Gambrills Area Elementary.

Four Republicans on the council - all eligible for a second term - are considered likely to return. Middlebrooks and Dillon are running unopposed; Vitale and Reilly are running in districts with strong Republican majorities. The council will next meet Dec. 4.

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