County Cracks Down On Cable

'Temporary' Lines Above Ground Will Draw Fines After 15 Days, Council Decides

December 13, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

Cable television companies that place "temporary" cables above ground after repairs or new installations now face civil fines if they don't return to bury the wires within 15 business days.

The Howard County Council unanimously approved that bill, also backed by County Executive Ken Ulman, at a Monday night session.

Action was postponed on two other bills to rezone Columbia's town center, and new council leaders were chosen for the next year.

Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson was chosen by the four council Democrats to serve as chairwoman for the next year, replacing Mary Kay Sigaty, a West Columbia Democrat, who moves to vice chairwoman. Jen Terrasa, who represents the southeastern county, is the new zoning board chairwoman, replacing east Columbia Democrat Calvin Ball, who will be liquor board chairman.

Greg Fox, the council's only Republican, abstained from all the votes and received no leadership position this year. Fox had headed the liquor board the past three years. Only Terrasa and Fox have not served as council chair during this four-year term. The job entails handling administrative leadership for the five-member body as well as scheduling meetings, guiding legislation and communicating with the executive. Traditionally, the majority party members keep the post within their ranks, though Republican Christopher J. Merdon served as chairman in 2005 with help from Democrat David Rakes.

Watson, who was also council chairwoman two years ago, referred jokingly to what she described as the best two days in that job, which pays $1,000 extra per year.

"The best day is the day you're elected, and the second-best day is the day you turn the reins over. Everything else is just a blur," she said. Two weeks ago, she joked that the new chair would be the member who chose the short straw. In addition to finishing the complex downtown Columbia rezoning, the council faces perhaps the toughest budget outlook in years, the chore of moving offices and staff back to a renovated George Howard Building from temporary quarters in Columbia, and next fall's elections.

Monday night, the members approved the cable bill without discussion or comment, ignoring the earlier pleas of lobbyists for Comcast and Verizon, who urged delay.

The bill is the result of dozens of complaints from residents, who have peppered both the county's cable administrator and council members' offices with accounts of cables left strung through trees and over lawns, driveways and sidewalks for months. People said their repeated complaints to the cable firms were often ignored until an elected official became involved.

"I have walked many a street and seen lines up in the trees," Sigaty

said at the council's public hearing last month.

Under the law, exceeding the time limit without obtaining a formal extension would cost a firm $100 to $250 per day. Leaving wires up in the air, in trees or over structures would cost $500 to $1,000 a day.

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