Elected officials take their oaths in metro counties

Population growth, school construction among the most pressing issues in suburbs

December 05, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,sun reporter

The face of regional government took on a new look yesterday as three newly elected county executives were sworn in at ceremonies in Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties, while the governor-elect watched as a slate of returning officials were inaugurated in Baltimore County.

Promising to maintain quality of life while confronting looming growth challenges, Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican, said the next four years "have the potential to be the most exciting and challenging we've faced. We must set the bar high."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was a surprise guest at the ceremony, held at Harford Community College. The Republican received a 30-second standing ovation and introduced Craig, calling him "one of the good guys."

Attorney General-elect Douglas F. Gansler also was in attendance - a guest of freshman Democratic County Council member Mary Ann Lisanti, one of four new council members.

As he did when he was appointed to the post 17 months ago, Craig made a handful of pledges. They included adding 60 new sheriff's deputies, increasing state funding to build or renovate seven schools, eliminating 50 percent of portable classrooms, preserving 4,000 acres of farmland and maintaining the county's designated growth envelope.

Noting the pressing timetable to prepare for thousands of incoming military jobs, Craig, 57, a former history teacher, quoted Theodore Roosevelt: "Do the best you can with what you have, and do it now."

In Towson, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and the seven members of the County Council all were sworn in for another four years. Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley and members of the county's General Assembly delegation were among those who looked on from the stage at Towson University's Towson Center arena as Smith pledged to continue the redevelopment initiatives of his first term.

"We have new schools to build, high schools to renovate, roads to open and community centers to complete," Smith, 64, a Reisterstown Democrat, told several hundred people in the audience.

In a speech that quoted Leonardo da Vinci, John F. Kennedy and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Smith offered no new major initiatives. But afterward, he said that he and other county executives will face tight state budgets in coming years.

"We have to deal with that," he said.

The continuation of Baltimore County's leadership was in contrast to Howard County, which welcomed a new executive and a virtually all-rookie council. Only Calvin Ball has council experience - he served for seven months after he was appointed to serve out the term of a council member who resigned.

Before the ceremonies last night at Centennial High School, County Executive Ken Ulman promised a "transparent" and "accountable" administration that would continue the "tradition of Howard County as a leader in delivering high-quality services and delivering a high quality of life."

Ulman, 32, will enter office facing two critical issues: growth and the county's multimillion-dollar deficit for future health care costs for retired county employees.

He has said he will not support building 5,500 housing units in downtown Columbia - a key component of the current plan to transform it into an urban center - and intends to seek additional staff for a police department that he called "woefully inadequate."

In Anne Arundel, John R. Leopold, 63, was sworn in as the county's seventh executive. More than 100 supporters, including members of his administration, lawmakers and business leaders attended the inaugural, as did House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

Leopold a Republican, was a five-term state delegate. His election was one of the few bright spots for the GOP statewide.

Leopold spoke for less than three minutes to the audience at the Arundel Center in Annapolis. He later said that "brevity" and "efficiency" would be watchwords for his administration.

"We've already had quite a start," he told the audience.

In the three weeks since narrowly winning the county's top job, Leopold has appointed 26 people to his administration and cut at least four positions, including that of chief of staff, to reduce spending. By his estimation, he said, he cut about $1 million.

After a bitter election that divided the conservative and moderate wings of Carroll County's Republican Party, incumbents Julia W. Gouge and Dean L. Minnich, both GOP moderates, and newcomer Michael D. Zimmer were sworn in yesterday as Carroll County's new Board of County Commissioners.

Larry Helminiak, chairman of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee and a Zimmer supporter, said the county's politicians need to move past the election.

"To have someone in there that will occasionally question things and cause more discussion is a desirable thing," Helminiak said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Josh Mitchell, Gerald P. Merrell, Phillip McGowan and Laura McCandlish contributed to this article.

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