The chairman of the Baltimore County Council said Tuesday he does not plan to seek candidates publicly or hold open hearings on who should replace County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who died suddenly last week.
Julian Jones said council members were elected to make these type of decisions — and did not require public input.
“I do not anticipate any public input, only because of the timeline,” said Jones, although he did not set a date for a decision to be made. “This is the job of the County Council. This is part of the charter. Everyone up here has been elected to do a job and I think it’s important that we do the job.”
Some council members and others called for a transparent process of selecting a new county executive, including seeking public comment.
Councilman David Marks said county residents should be able to know who is being considered and have an opportunity to voice their opinions.
“There should be an opportunity for public input. Residents should have a chance to tell the council the qualities and qualifications they’d like to see in the next county executive,” said Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.
Jones, a Democrat from Woodstock, called a public application process for candidates unnecessary.
“I don’t think people are waiting for an application,” he said. “I think they’ve already made themselves known.”
Jones declined to discuss any potential candidates for the position.
When Kamenetz died May 10 of sudden cardiac arrest, county administrative officer Fred Homan was made acting county executive, under rules set out in the county’s charter.
The charter gives the seven-member County Council the responsibility for naming a new executive to fill out Kamenetz’s term, which expires in early December. The council, which is composed of four Democrats and three Republicans, must select someone from the same party as Kamenetz — a Democrat — and who meets the requirements for age and residency in the county. The charter does not specify a timeline for replacing the executive.
Tuesday was the first time council members had met in an official capacity since Kamenetz’s death. Black fabric was draped over the public entrance to the Historic Courthouse in Towson, where the executive’s office is housed. Council members opened a work session Tuesday with a moment of silence in Kamenetz’s memory, but did not address the issue of replacing him.
After Tuesday’s work session, however, Marks and Councilman Wade Kach said they would like to see an open process to select a new executive.
Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, said Baltimore County should follow a procedure similar to what Anne Arundel County did when it selected a replacement in 2013 for John R. Leopold, who resigned after being found guilty of misconduct in office. Anne Arundel officials put out a public call for applicants, which drew 16 respondents. The council held public interviews before voting to select Laura Neuman to finish out Leopold’s term.
“I’d like to see a public interview process,” Kach said. “These are decisions that should not be made behind closed doors.”
The advocacy group Common Cause Maryland called for transparency in choosing Kamenetz’s successor. Damon Effingham, the organization’s acting director, said the council could hold public forums so residents could ask questions about the process and the candidates.
“You need to have public confidence in these picks,” Effingham said. “The executive is a powerful position within the county, even if it’s just temporary. Every system of government has to have buy-in from the governed in order to have faith that it’s working on behalf of the governed."
Jones said the earliest a selection could happen is May 24, the next time council members are scheduled to have a meeting with a voting session. That’s the day council members are scheduled to vote on the county’s $3.3 billion budget.
Jones said he needed to talk more with other council members before setting a plan.
He said his personal preference would be to choose a current or former elected official to fill the position. He declined to say if he’s interested in the job.
Three Democratic candidates are vying in June’s primary election for the party’s nomination to be the next full-term county executive: Current Councilwoman Vicki Almond of Reisterstown, state Sen. Jim Brochin of Cockeysville and former state Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. of Dundalk.
Any of those three would qualify as a potential replacement for Kamenetz, but Effingham of Common Cause said it would be “incredibly unfair” for the council to pick someone currently running for the seat.
”The other candidates have supporters as well, and it would be really disenfranchising to those people in the county,” he said.
Almond declined to comment on speculation about a possible appointment to the post. She said council members need to give more thought to how they carry out the process.
“It’s a matter of having some discussion amongst ourselves,” she said. “We haven’t done that yet.”
Olszewski said Tuesday that he was focused on “voters selecting me in June and again in November.”
He declined to comment on whom the council should pick, but said the process should be transparent. He noted that early in his political career, he was appointed to a vacant House of Delegates seat in a process that was open to the public.
“It’s irresponsible that the council appears to rush the appointment of a county executive without public input. Voters are tired of being left out of the process,” he said.
Brochin said he doesn’t think any of the current candidates should be considered.
“Nobody should get the upper hand,” Brochin said. “If they called me tomorrow and said, ‘It’s 7-0 and we want you to be county executive,’ I would say no.”
Brochin suggested the council could consider former county executives Donald P. Hutchinson and Theodore G. Venetoulis, or perhaps current parks director Barry Williams.
Williams could not be reached for comment. Venetoulis and Hutchinson would each qualify for the job — they are Democrats who have homes in the county.
So would another former county executive: Jim Smith, a top aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh who has a county home and also rents a condo in the city.
All three former executives said Tuesday they have not been contacted by anyone from the County Council and are not pursuing the position.
“I’ve got my hands full,” Smith said.
Venetoulis said people “in the political community” have mentioned the position to him, but he hasn’t received any official call. Venetoulis said council members first must decide if they want to pick one of their own colleagues. If they decide to pick a former elected official, he said, he would consider the position “under the right circumstances.”
Hutchinson, the president and CEO of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, said he loves his job. He said if a council member calls him for advice, he would gladly talk with them because “I love the county.”
But he added: “I’m not pursuing any kind of position as [county] executive.”