Baltimore County's familiar faces

Our view: A new county executive may tout innovation, but appointments to his inner circle reveal a lot of the usual suspects

December 07, 2010

As a candidate for Baltimore County executive, Kevin Kamenetz pledged to be innovative and not simply carry on the traditions of the past. While the first day in office may be a bit too early to pass judgment on his labors, the senior advisors he's named so far will be neither new to county government nor represent an embrace of diversity.

Late last week, Mr. Kamenetz announced that Fred Homan would be retained as the county's administrative officer and Don I. Mohler III, who handled communications for former county executive James T. Smith Jr., would serve as his chief of staff. Meanwhile, he named outgoing councilman Vincent J. Gardina to head the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability and well-known Towson lawyer Arnold E. Jablon, who has served in and out of county government for decades, as deputy administrative officer.

All are white and all are male, and collectively they've drawn more paychecks from county government than Towson University has issued parking tickets on campus — which is to say, a lot. The incoming county executive's choices for his inner circle follow on the heels of his decision to create what is essentially a one-man transition team. Former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis — also white and also male and also associated with county government for decades — is serving as his only transition advisor.

This is not to attack any of these appointees, who have served honorably and well in the past and might very well represent excellent choices for these posts. And Mr. Kamenetz is keeping some women and minorities from the Smith administration in top posts. Of the 16 appointees he sent to the County Council for confirmation on Monday, four are African-American, and one of those four is the sole woman on the list. All of them are holdovers from the Smith administration, though one, Barry F. Williams, is in a new job.

But 52 percent of county residents are women, and more than 25 percent are African-American, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates. Another 10 percent are from other minority groups. Are none fit to recruit for the highest echelon of county government?

Meanwhile, one has to wonder how innovative the Kamenetz regime will prove to be when its top managers are so deeply versed in how things have been done since the 1970s. The new county executive's first stab at innovation was to announce a plan to cut some vacant jobs and a handful of senior managements posts for a total savings of $8 million from the $1.6 billion county budget, a trim of one half of 1 percentage point.

Baltimore County has certainly enjoyed a reputation for pinching pennies, and with recent reforms to employee retirement and benefit plans has set a budgetary example for the rest of the state. But the county also has a reputation for having a good old boy network in matters of politics and business that has been insufficiently responsive to the concerns of women and minorities. So far in the Kamenetz administration, the good old boy network has only gotten a little older.

Innovation starts with new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems. Smart political leaders learn to balance experience with fresh perspectives and make diversity a priority — not only for overall hiring but for senior aides, too. Mr. Kamenetz, who served on the council for 16 years, would seem to have the experience requirement fairly well covered all by himself.

The new county executive was sworn into office Monday. One day of behavior does not a pattern make. But it's disappointing that Mr. Kamenetz, who spoke eloquently to this newspaper's editorial board about the county needing to be a leader not just in fiscal austerity but in innovation, has not taken up that cause when it comes to filling such critical positions.

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