Executive-elect looking ahead

Ulman, starting transition, to examine senior tax cut, Columbia building heights

November 10, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

In his first official appearance, Howard County Executive-elect Ken Ulman said yesterday he will seek to fulfill his promise to limit building heights in Columbia and take a deeper look at the senior property tax cut approved last month by the County Council on a unanimous vote -- including his.

"I want the Commission on Aging to look at what the issues are," Ulman said of the senior tax cut, adding that the commission members have begun studying the matter.

Beyond that, Ulman took the occasion of his first news conference since Tuesday's election to greet three of the new council members, name a nine-member transition committee and engage in some light banter with outgoing County Executive James N. Robey, who is newly elected to the state Senate.

Robey joked that he will be available for advice if Ulman needs any.

"I have the gray hair and the wisdom of years," Robey said.

And his first bit of unsolicited advice drew laughter from the crowd.

"Change that furniture and the drapes and carpeting in the executive office," said Robey, who added that he never remodeled the office for fear of being skewered in the press. "The time has come. It's 16 years old, and I think even [former County Executive Charles I.] Chuck Ecker would say, `Get it out of here.' "

Ulman, gesturing at the bright orange, 1970s-era carpeting and bare brick walls in the news conference room, said his mother already has made a few suggestions. "She's a great interior designer," he said.

Following up on the election, Ulman said he spoke Wednesday with the two unsuccessful candidates for county executive -- council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, the Republican candidate, and independent C. Stephen Wallis. Ulman won the three-way race by a comfortable 10 points over Merdon, a Republican. Wallis, an independent, received 4.5 percent of the vote.

The Democrat said he hopes to have lunch with each of the other candidates soon and trade ideas.

Asked if he intends to follow through on his late campaign vow to limit building heights in central Columbia, he said, "That's certainly part of the plan."

Ulman, locked in what had been expected to be a tight race with Merdon, announced just before the election that he opposed construction of a 23-story condominium building on Columbia's lakefront. Merdon supported a comprehensive review of zoning standards, but not a specific law banning buildings over 14 stories. Ulman originally agreed but changed his position four days before the election.

It is unclear, however, if Ulman or the County Council can block that building. The project has no building permit, but the Florida developers may get one before legislation is approved or takes effect. That would vest them legally, preventing any attempt to stop the project.

Legislation could, however, block any more towers, several of which were shown as part of General Growth's downtown Columbia plan last year.

Steve Zenker, a vice president for WCI, the developer, had no specific comment yesterday on Ulman's remarks or the company's plans.

The senior tax cut, thought to be the most generous in Maryland, gives homeowners 70 or older a 25 percent permanent reduction on their property taxes. Ulman said he supports tax relief for seniors but wants more information on what the law will do.

"It was rushed into the process very late in the game," he said. The politically popular bill was approved Oct. 30 but will not take effect until tax bills go out July 1.

Ulman said he will operate from his County Council office and a transition office being set up in the county's Gateway until the new officials are sworn in Dec. 1.

Although Ulman announced no specific staff changes yesterday, he faces a number of key job vacancies.

Chief Administrative Officer Raquel Sanudo has said she intends to retire by summer, and several county agencies -- including the police, human resources and budget departments -- are being run by acting leaders.

In addition, communications director Victoria Goodman has discussed retiring. And it remains unclear whether time constraints will allow Deputy Planning Director Stephen D. Lafferty to remain, now that he has won a House of Delegates seat from his home District 42 in Towson.

"I have to have a conversation with the new county executive," Lafferty said.

Ulman named Guy Guzzone, his closest friend on the County Council, to head transition committee that is to issue a report by January and help decide on staff changes.

"This is going to be a pretty easy job," said Guzzone, smiling, with other committee members arrayed behind him in the George Howard county office building. Robey is leaving the government in good shape, he said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

transition team

The transition steering committee announced yesterday by County Executive-elect Ken Ulman has nine members.

The chairman is County Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, who won a seat in the House of Delegates in Tuesday's election. The other members are:

Victor Broccolino, president and CEO of Howard County General Hospital.

Patti Caplan, director of public relations for the county school system.

Mary Ellen Duncan, president, Howard Community College.

C. Vernon Gray, former five-term county councilman.

Mukesh Majmudar, president and CEO of Star Hotels, which includes the Hilton Garden on Snowden River Parkway.

Timothy McCrone, Howard County state's attorney.

Jean Parker, general manager of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Maurice Simpkins, Board of Appeals member and longtime community and business leader.

The group is to issue a public report of recommendations in January.

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