Council members work to bridge differences, find commonalities

Anne Arundel, Baltimore counties welcome five newcomers

December 05, 2010|By Nicole Fuller and Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Different backgrounds and political parties haven't stopped new local lawmakers around the region from working to find common interests as they prepare to be sworn in Monday.

Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties both have five newcomers to their seven-member councils, and an expanded, all-Republican board of commissioners is coming to Carroll County with a full slate of freshman lawmakers. Harford County voters retained the council president and all six council members.

Lawmakers will need to move quickly in addressing the challenges that await them. Baltimore County is grappling with how to revitalize aging suburbs and overcome a lean budget year. Awaiting the new Anne Arundel County Council members is a projected $90 million budget shortfall and the county's once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning process. Harford County faces pressing fiscal issues and must find replacements for four longtime directors, including the heads of public works and planning, who resigned Wednesday.

In Carroll County, voters decided in 2004 to increase the board to five members, who were elected by districts drawn by the state legislature.

Incoming council members around the region say they are tapping into the wisdom of their more experienced colleagues and predecessors while trying to form collegial bonds.

Tom Quirk of District 1 in Baltimore County said he's found his predecessor, S.G. Samuel Moxley, to be a great resource. Quirk said Moxley, both of whom are Democrats, encouraged him to call anytime.

"There's a lot to learn," Quirk said, "and a lot to know."

Cathy Bevins, a Democrat who will represent the 6th District on the Baltimore County Council, said she's tried to build on commonalities, such as being raised in Dundalk as was Council Chairman John A. Olszewski Sr., and serving with Vicki Almond, another woman on the council. Bevins and Republican David Marks have discussed issues that overlap in their neighboring districts.

"We don't want it to be 'that Democrat' and 'that Republican,''' Bevins said. "We want it to be about a council that truly cares about its constituents and wants to get the work done."

Marks expressed similar sentiments. He's met with some colleagues to discuss such issues as planning, transportation and walkability.

"We're just trying to develop a comfort level, particularly among the freshman members," he said.

Chris Trumbauer, an Anne Arundel Democrat who will represent Annapolis on the council, said he's made it a point to keep the conversations light with most of his soon-to-be colleagues.

Trumbauer and newcomer Derek Fink, a Republican, spoke about "fantasy football and what we like to do for fun."

"Especially considering there's five new faces, I think it's important to try to build some rapport and part of that is just getting to know each other," said Trumbauer, who heads a nonprofit environmental group.

It hasn't been all play and no politics, though. Council members appear to have reached consensus on who will take leadership roles. According to Marks, the council will likely support veteran Councilman Olszewski to serve another term as chairman.

Trumbauer said his colleagues have decided who will serve as council president and vice president, though he was tight-lipped about the details.

"I'm not sure I'm at liberty to say that," Trumbauer said. "But I think it's going to be a consensus."

With only one Republican on the previous Baltimore County Council, Marks and fellow Republican Todd Huff have had numerous conversations about staffing.

"We're looking at a lot of the same people," Marks said.

Fink said he's already bonded with his counterparts, taking part in an orientation for the new council members that included a tour of county agencies and meetings with the county budget director and the head of the planning and zoning department. The new legislators have also met with Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold.

Fink said that while nobody's discussed specific legislation yet, he's already got some of his colleagues on board with a plan to streamline the county's permitting process.

"I think we're going to make a strong effort to work together," Fink said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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