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Political Notebook: Sigaty named council chair, Terrasa, Fox yet to get chance

The five members of the Howard County Council, about to start their sixth legislative year together, selected new leadership this week, passing the top spot back to Columbia Democrat Mary Kay Sigaty for a second time.

When the five first started serving together in 2006, they elected Columbia Democrat Calvin Ball, the only among them with any experience, to be the council chairperson. Ball was appointed to the council in April 2006 — he took over for David Rakes, who resigned because of health reasons — giving him an eight-month head start over the other members.

In 2007, the council elected Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson as council chairperson, followed by Sigaty in 2008, Watson again in 2009 and Ball again in 2010. On Monday, Dec. 5, the council named Sigaty.

In the public eye, the council chairperson, who earns an extra $1,000 a year, is known for leading the council through its monthly legislative meetings, public hearings and work sessions and speaking on behalf of the council at public events. But behind the scenes, the chairperson supervises the council staff, ensures deadlines are being met, coordinates with the county executive's administration and works to build consensus among the other council members.

"It's an honor and a challenge," Ball said of the role.

Give his minority status, it's no surprise that Fulton Republican Greg Fox has never served as the council chairperson. But why has Columbia Democrat Jen Terrasa continually been passed up for the position?

"We worked out the chairmanship in a way that best serves the community," Terrasa, who spent the past year as vice chair of the council, said Monday after the most recent leadership elections.

Terrasa was selected to serve as chairperson of the Zoning Board, which is what the council is called when it decides zoning cases.

"I like chairing the Zoning Board," she said. "It allows me to (use) my skills, background as a lawyer."

Asked if she ever wants to serve as council chairperson, Terrasa said: "I take that year by year."

The council members vote on the leadership positions each December at their public legislative meeting, but the decisions on who will take which role are made behind the scenes.

Fox, who was selected to chair the Liquor Board in the upcoming year, said he doesn't care that he has never had the opportunity to be the council chairperson, or that he likely never will.

"With a Democratic supermajority, I wouldn't expect it," he said. "I appreciate the opportunity to be chair of the Liquor Board."

The council, in its role as the Liquor Board, oversees the liquor licensing process in Howard County. But the council rarely sits as the Liquor Board, as it delegates much of its authority to the five-member-volunteer Alcohol Beverage Hearing Board.

On Monday, Watson was selected to serve as vice chair of the council and Ball was selected to serve as vice chair of both the Zoning Board and the Liquor Board.

Ulman adminstration loses Spann

Howard County Housing Director Stacy Spann will be leaving at the end of the year to take a job in Montgomery County, becoming the second person that County Executive Ulman hired for his administration to resign.

And with three years left in his term, Ulman said Spann likely won't be the last.

"People look at moving on when other opportunities come their way, especially when somebody's term limited," he said.

The first person to leave the Ulman administration was Aaron Greenfield, who served as Ulman's chief of staff during his first two years in office. Greenfield resigned in February 2009 to take a job as director of government affairs for the international law firm Duane Morris LLP. When Greenfield left, Ulman promoted longtime aid Jessica Feldmark to the position.

Spann has served as housing director for five years.

Asked if it was especially hard to see someone he hand-picked for the position leave, Ulman said: "Not really. I don't view this as anything other than Stacy getting a great opportunity."

Spann, 38, confirmed those sentiments.

"It was all about the opportunity, and frankly what was in my best interest and in the best interest of my family," he said.

Still, Spann noted it is difficult to leave the job.

"This administration's been great to me; the opportunity's been great," he said.

Spann's annual salary as Howard County's housing director is $139,713.60. Susan Krimer Yancy, a spokesperson with the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, said Spann's salary has not yet been finalized. He starts as executive director in January.

"I didn't go to Ken and ask him for a pay increase," said Spann, who will continue to reside with his family in Maple Lawn. "That is never something we discussed."

Ulman admitted he did not offer Spann any incentive to stay.

In a news release about Spann's departure, Ulman lauded Tom Carbo, the deputy housing director who will take over Spann's responsibilities until Ulman names a permanent replacement.

Carbo, Ulman said in an interview, is a prime candidate for the job.

Ulman has a history of rewarding loyalty, promoting those who stick by his side. As Ulman explores his options for 2014, including a possible gubernatorial run, those who remain in his administration could be tapped for new positions if he is successful in his pursuits.

Obama endorses Cardin

President Barack Obama last week endorsed U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin in his bid for re-election.

Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, has served as one of Maryland's two U.S. Senators since 2006. Cardin represented Maryland's Third Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 1987 to 2006.

"Ben is one of the good guys," Obama stated in his endorsement. "He has the courage to stand up for what he believes and he works for solutions to the most important issues facing our nation."

Cardin is also supporting Obama in his campaign to return to the White House.

"I am thrilled to have the early support of President Obama, and this speaks to the importance of Democrats being united in the 2012 campaign," Cardin said in a statement.

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