Baltimore County Council OKs ballot proposals on county charter; Towson protesters mark 'treegate' anniversary

Baltimore County voters will have an opportunity this fall to change the way the county does business: The County Council decided Monday to place several charter revisions on the November ballot.

The county charter generally lays out procedures for government operations.

On the charter questions, one of the most substantial changes would extend the time that council legislation can be considered — from 40 days to 65 days. Community activists have supported that change, saying it would give residents more time to study proposed bills and determine whether they support or oppose them.

It would also give the council time to hold public hearings on proposed amendments. Council members can now add amendments to bills at the same meeting where a final vote is taken. Critics say that doesn’t give time for the public to review or comment on them.

Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, said he is troubled by having to vote on amendments “at the very last minute,” and a longer period will give the council a better opportunity to consider the bill and any amendments.

Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said having more time with bills “will give us more opportunity to get it right.”

Lynne Jones, president of the Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council, told council members during a hearing last week that the short lifespan of bills makes it “exceedingly difficult” to keep up with what’s going on.

Extending the life of bills will make it easier for community groups, which often meet monthly, to communicate with members, discuss bills and give input to council members, Jones said.

Many of the other proposed charter changes are minor: codifying a practice where a re-elected county executive must have all his department directors approved by the council; removing requirements that the county executive must serve on the recreation board and a social services board; and adding gender-neutral language to the charter document.

The proposed changes came from the county’s Charter Review Commission, a volunteer committee that met for the past year.

Council members added one proposed change of their own.

At the suggestion of Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, voters will decide whether to expand the mission of the Department of Public Works to make clear that the department’s responsibilities includes not just highways and roads, but the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Right now the language in the charter is very highway-focused,” Marks said. He had initially wanted to change the agency’s name to the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, but withdrew that proposal.

Remembering ‘treegate’

The approval of charter questions came on the same night a group of protesters gathered about a half-mile away — with several also attending the council session — to mark the anniversary of the controversial felling of about 30 trees on county property.

Last April, crews hired by the county took down the trees at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue, the site of a former fire station and public works facility. The property is under contract to be sold for private development.

Some Towson residents dubbed the episode “Treegate,” and said it was an example of the county’s looking out for the interests of developers over residents. The trees were not supposed to be torn down under a resolution governing development at the site.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is proposing a revised contract to sell the land to Caves Valley Partners, lowering the sale price from $8.3 million to $6.9 million after the developers agreed not to build a gas station as part of their project there. The revised contract will be reviewed by the county council later this month.

The protesters yelled chants, including: “Honesty! Transparency! Act for the people!” and “Hey, hey! K.K.! How many trees did you kill today?”

A spokesperson for the county executive could not be reached for comment.

pwood@baltsun.com

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