Nominee Jablon vows 'wall' to avoid conflicts of interest

Prospective Balto. Co. development chief also sees improved agency operations

December 14, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

The land-use lawyer nominated as Baltimore County's new development chief says he intends to speed the building permit process, step up enforcement of county codes and put up a "Chinese wall" separating himself from former clients.

Arnold E. Jablon, who worked for the county for 25 years before joining the Venable law firm in 2003, told the County Council on Tuesday that he is withdrawing as the attorney in all active cases that could possibly come before the new Department of Permits, Inspections and Approvals.

"I am bound by the lawyer's canon of ethics," said Jablon, 67. "I take that very seriously."

Jablon appeared before the council yesterday along with 16 other nominees named as department heads in a management shuffle by newly elected County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. The mood was friendly in the day of interviews, as each meeting lasted between five and 30 minutes and appointees gave updates on departmental matters and took questions.

All nominations are subject to council approval but one: Timothy M. Kotroco, who is leaving the position Jablon would take to join a new three-member administrative law panel that takes the place of the zoning commissioner and deputy zoning commissioner. That change and other elements of Kamenetz's reorganization plan are scheduled to come before the council for voting on Monday.

Of the nominees, only Jablon and former Councilman Vincent J. Gardina are not currently working for the county. Gardina, who stepped down after a record five four-year council terms, has been nominated to head the newly named Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability. The other nominees have either been tapped by Kamenetz, a Democrat, to take a new post or to continue in their current position.

Jablon, who was head of development before he left the county, has also served as director of planning and zoning, zoning commissioner and county attorney. He is the sole or co-counsel in 7 of 25 cases now pending before the Board of Appeals and at least four cases in Circuit Court, some of which could eventually come before his department for permits. He said he would recuse himself from involvement if clients in these cases come before his agency.

Democratic Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. of Dundalk told Jablon that he hears from many of his constituents that that the permits department should be more "consumer friendly."

Jablon said he would work to save permit application time by coordinating the work of departments involved in approving construction projects, and by having more department functions conducted online. Getting a permit to build a backyard shed, he said, "should be done in a matter of minutes, not a matter of days."

Olszewski and Republican Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall pressed Jablon on tougher code enforcement, and Jablon agreed something needed to be done. He said he would begin training inspectors to spot violations outside their own specialty. For instance, he would want an electrical inspector who sees an obvious trash-disposal violation to report it.

"He has the authority to do that," said Jablon.

Administrative Officer Fred Homan, another veteran of county government, has been nominated for re-appointment. He echoed a couple of Kamenetz's campaign themes in stressing the importance of technology in increasing productivity and efficiency to save money in county operations. He said it was too early to provide a detailed forecast of revenues, but he said more leans years lie ahead.

"This is a much more difficult economy than anyone counted on," said Homan, who has served in county government since 1978 and in his current post since 2007. He said county spending so far is "well within appropriations" in the 2011 budget, which runs through June 30.

Police Chief James W. Johnson, also up for re-appointment, told the council that new technology is helping his department in a few different ways.

He said the controversial traffic speed camera program has apparently been able to "alter driver behavior," as violations caught on camera have dropped by half since the cameras were installed at 15 school zones around the county about six months ago. He said he's had many requests from citizens for more cameras.

Johnson said officers now have the ability to get state Motor Vehicle Administration information on drivers they stop via computer in all 450 patrol cars. By typing in the driver's name, Johnson said, the officer can get the person's picture and any information on outstanding arrest warrants.

He told the council that the department expects to start its online "I-Watch" program in February, allowing citizens to check a county web site to read about area crime and get more involved in giving information to the police. The site will include images from closed-circuit television cameras in hopes that people will be able to identify criminal suspects.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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