Ball seems likely choice as council chairman

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

December 03, 2006|By Larry Carson

The vote won't come until after tomorrow's 7 p.m. swearing-in at Centennial High School, but chances are that Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, will be the new chairman of the Howard County Council.

Ball, 30, is pooh-poohing predictions. The new council members discussed leadership at a two-day retreat last week at Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge, but they would not give specifics.

"There was a lot of conversation and team building and getting to know each other," Ball said. "I'm really trying to build a community of collaboration with this council. Decisions have not been finalized."

Normally, the five council members rotate the chairmanship each year among members of the majority party. The job pays an extra $1,000 over the $49,000 annual salary. The chairman sets the agenda, represents the council at ceremonial events and often serves as the council's main communications link with the county executive.

Despite custom, that is not how things worked in the council term ending tomorrow. Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, was chairman three years in a row. Republican Christopher J. Merdon took the post the final year after east Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes became alienated from his fellow Democrats and voted with the two Republican members.

Ball, who was appointed in April after Rakes resigned, also has legislative business to do tomorrow night.

He plans to introduce a resolution to create a task force to "evaluate the effectiveness" of the senior property tax credit bill that the council passed Oct. 30. The law gives a 25 percent tax cut to those 70 and older with incomes of less than $75,000.

Early betting had Courtney Watson as vice chairwoman of the new council and Mary Kay Sigaty the Zoning Board chairwoman, but that could change.

Kasemeyer impact

Howard County could get a prestige boost and more from state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer's promotion to Senate majority leader, despite his giving up chairmanship of the Senate's capital budget committee, other legislators say.

Kasemeyer's new job will involve steering Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley's legislative program through the Senate and working to support fellow Democrats around the state.

"It's a job that's going to take on a different perspective" than previously, Kasemeyer said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller tapped him for the post, and he said he did it for very specific reasons.

"Ed is a very effective leader. He's handled the tough issues for us before," Miller said, mentioning the sticky BGE rate increase. "He's a very even-tempered person who is a voice of reason. He's going to be the voice of the administration on the Senate floor [mainly because] members respect him."

One of the more ticklish issues will be slot machines.

"The majority of people don't want increased taxes," Kasemeyer said, but with a structural state budget shortfall looming "we're really in a dire situation."

"You have to do something," he said. "Some kind of compromise [on slots] has got to be reached."

As for Howard's local interests, the low-key, pragmatic Kasemeyer should be in a position to help.

"Once you get people in top leadership, it certainly has a positive effect on the county, and it puts him in a very critical position when they choose the next Senate president," said Democratic Del. Frank S. Turner.

Turner was referring to Miller's announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2010.

Even without being capital budget chairman, Kasemeyer will "have tremendous influence on the capital budget," Turner said.

Howard County has sought and received matching state money to help expand the Howard Community College campus, to renovate the Blandair mansion, to help plan the North Laurel Community Park and for a variety of other projects. State Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat, will take over capital budget committee, Kasemeyer said.

Kasemeyer, of Columbia, a 20-year legislator whose District 12 covers west Columbia, Elkridge and southwestern Baltimore County, said he will be 2007 chairman of Howard's three senators and still will have influence on capital budget issues.

"I think that with my relationship with Ed [DeGrange] we'll still be in good standing in that regard," he said. "We work together real well."

Sen.-elect James N. Robey, the outgoing county executive, said he asked Kasemeyer to chair the county senators because he is new to the General Assembly.

"It's inappropriate for me to chair the Senate side since I'm the freshman down here," Robey said.

Howard's eight delegates and three senators have separate chairmen and vote independently on local legislation. Del. Shane E. Pendergrass is chairwoman of the House delegation.

Howard's third senator, Republican Allan H. Kittleman, said, "I'm pleased with the decision. I think Ed is a good senator who represents Howard County well. I think having him majority leader can only benefit the Howard County."

Big spending

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