More than the specifics of school construction and highway funding requests, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman's meeting Thursday with Maryland Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley in Baltimore reflects what Ulman thinks will be a good relationship.
"I have every reason to believe that our friendship is strong and he [O'Malley] understands the needs of the citizens of Howard County." What better sign, Ulman said, than the fact that O'Malley called Ulman before the new county executive asked the governor-elect for a meeting?
Ulman said he provided O'Malley with detailed information on Howard's needs for renovations of older schools and the gap between the $18 million the state provided for school construction this year and the $99 million the school board is now requesting.
In addition, Ulman wants to push forward the widening of U.S. 29 northbound near Columbia, and to advance safety improvements on the western portion of Route 32.
The county executive also wants state help in improving the Route 175 intersection with U.S. 1 and replacing aging Howard Transit buses. Both projects could help prepare the county for the arrival of thousands of new federal defense-related jobs.
In addition, Ulman is happy about O'Malley's choices for top state posts for transportation, legislative director and budget director because he knows all three appointees from his service in Annapolis during the administration of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
"I think it's really a team that wants to be collaborative," he said.
Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's spokesman, said Baltimore's mayor recalled that Glendening had always met with him before, during and after each General Assembly session, so he is doing the same with local elected officials.
"It creates a spirit of partnership and working together toward common goals," Abbruzzese said.
Perhaps as important, Abbruzzese said, is that O'Malley must submit a budget Jan. 19, and with another revenue shortfall looming, he wants to find out what local leaders need.
"He feels it's important to get a sense of priorities."
Carbo gets nod
Thomas P. Carbo was officially approved as acting executive director of the Howard County Housing Commission by commission members last week, giving him the legal authority to operate until new director Stacy Spann begins his new job as director Jan. 16.
Spann and Carbo attended the commission's monthly meeting last week and were warmly greeted, though neither said they had ready answers to Howard's need for more affordable housing.
"We're glad to have you home," commission member William A. Ross Sr., told Spann, referring to his youth as a Hammond High School student and Columbia resident.
Returning to Howard County to work on housing problems is "a once-in-a-lifetime shot and it takes me full circle," Spann told the commissioners and two members of the Housing and Community Development board who attended the meeting in the county's Gateway building.
"It is a privilege to bring real solutions -- none of which we think are going to be easy," Spann said.
"I don't have the absolute answer. It is applying slow and steady pressure, educating the community about what affordable housing means," he said. "It doesn't mean an outbreak of crimes next to my house."
Spann said some county residents are spending as much as 60 percent of their income on housing. He said that if the pressure isn't relieved, it will lead to an "implosion."
"It gets worse by the day. The basic principle is that people should have equal housing opportunities," he said.
The next step, Spann said, is to develop a strategy to attack the problem, based on the findings of the Affordable Housing Task Force report completed last month.
One problem housing advocates are increasingly facing was on display Dec. 14, when about 400 people crowded into the County Council chambers for a developer-sponsored meeting. The group protested plans to build 59 subsidized apartments on a 2.5-acre Frederick Road site behind the Forest Motel and diner.
Resistance to subsidized housing is increasingly common as the county has been forced by rising home prices to encourage construction of subsidized apartment buildings instead of requiring builders to sell individual townhouses sprinkled among market-priced units.
Carbo said the boisterous crowd was angry with developer Jared Spahn over the project, which now faces an uncertain fate. County law requires the county to own any residential building erected on land zoned for business, but the Centennial Gardens project is a partnership between the Housing Commission and the developer.
The county has until Jan. 28 to reach agreement on a deal, Carbo said. Ulman has expressed opposition to the project in its current form, but if the number of units is reduced, it would lose state backing.
Carbo said his charge from Ulman is to gather information on all the county's programs and projects and report back in 60 days.
Adding to workload
Two Howard General Assembly members are moving up in their respective party hierarchies.
Democratic Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, a 12-year member, is the new deputy majority leader in the House of Delegates, chosen by Speaker Michael E. Busch.
Pendergrass said her job will be to persuade, not bully anyone. That's a task for legislative whips, she quipped.
A few weeks earlier, Republican Sen. Allan H. Kittleman was elected minority whip. He said that with 14 Republicans among the 47 senators, he expects to have very little bullying to do.
Pendergrass will remain chairwoman of Howard's House delegation along with her new duties.
"It doesn't change anything. It just adds" to the workload, she said.
"No one fights harder for her convictions than Shane Pendergrass," Busch said in an announcement. Pendergrass will serve under House Majority Leader Del. Kumar Barve of Montgomery County.