Memorial Day Ceremony at the Baltimore National Cemetery

First District Councilman Tom Quirk, shown speaking during the 26th annual Memorial Day ceremony at Baltimore National Cemetery, recently completed his year of serving as chairman of the council. (Photo by Nate Pesce / May 23, 2013)

In his first term representing the First District, Councilman Tom Quirk has seen how government works below the surface.

In his first term as chairman of the County Council, Quirk's perspective went even deeper.

The role included more than setting the council's agenda, running all the meetings every other Monday evening and the council work sessions every other Tuesday afternoon and doing the preparation for each, he said.

"A lot of it is day-to-day, performing the administrative duties of government. There are a lot of administrative details of just basic government," he said. "It takes a lot of elbow grease, making sure the day-to-day functions of government happen."

The extra duties added another five to 10 hours a week to the usual 20 to 25 he said he spent every week on council duties. That's in addition to the usual 40 hours a week he spent running his financial planning business in downtown Catonsville.

Beginning this week, he will get those five to 10 hours back as he relinquishes his chairman's position to Cathy Bevins, who represents the 6th District on the east side of the county.

The change will also mean a 10 percent cut in pay. Council members receive $54,000 while the chairman is paid $60,000. The position rotates among the seven members of the council for one-year terms.

"I enjoyed it. I felt very natural at it. But it was a challenge," Quirk said. "I was happy to pass the baton to Cathy Bevins.

He said the chairman set the tone in terms of the agenda, especially when it comes to putting bills and resolutions on the agenda for a vote, or holding them back.

There is also finding the right balance when there is a disagreement, he said.

"The last thing you want is for everybody to agree on everything," he said. "A lot times, good disagreements lead to a lot of good dialogue."

He won't miss mundane tasks, such as signing and dating the myriad of documents that kept county government going.

He said he spent hours after one particular Monday evening meeting in Towson attaching his signature to what seemed like 300 different contracts.

In addition to adminstrative duties that also included being in charge of the council staff in Towson, as well as his own, Quirk said his role also included serving as "a bridge" between the council and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

"I worked closely with Don Mohler, who is a Catonsville resident and the executive's chief of staff, and Arnold Jablon [head of the county's office of Permits, Approvals and Inspections]. That helped me a lot, talking to them on a daily basis, talking with the executive's people," Quirk said. "I think it's important that the executive branch and legislative branch work hand in hand."

He cited the issue of the county selling property it owned in Dundalk, Towson and Randallstown as one of the challenges the council faced during his year as chairman.

"But I didn't have a lot of frustrating moments," he said.

He said he will remain head of the council's Spending Affordability Committee, which sets the amount of money the county executive can spend to run the government.

"That has been a real pleasure of mine," he said of the leadership role he has held each of the three years of his term.

"There is a lot of detail, a lot of nuance to spending affordability, to how much the county executive can spend," he said.