Harford executive looks back over three years and ahead to final months of term

More than three years into his term, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who has filed to run again for the office, has several projects he’s pushing forward before the final year of his term ends.

One goal he says he is confident of achieving, is the establishment of a 24/7 crisis center for people with mental health issues — in Harford there are growing numbers of suicides, he said — a facility he believes is lacking in the county.

His push for a crisis center comes as Harford Countians still grieve the murders of two Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputies in 2016 and the killings of three people in a workplace shooting in Edgewood last fall.

Glassman said those local tragedies are among the “national calamities” of attacks on police and multiple mass shootings throughout the U.S.

For Harford, he said, “There is an age of lost innocence, a little bit, for the county.”

The county executive, 55, sat down with a reporter and two editors from The Aegis in his Bel Air office last Friday morning to talk about the past three years and his plans going forward. The Republican is eligible for a second term in the county executive’s office and announced his candidacy for re-election to great fanfare last fall with Gov. Larry Hogan at his side.

On Feb. 10, 2016, Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey and Deputy First Class Mark Logsdon were killed in the line of duty in Abingdon, contesting the notion on the part of residents that Harford is a completely safe county.

Harford County was rocked again on Oct. 18, 2017, when Radee L. Prince allegedly shot five of his co-workers at Advanced Granite Solutions in Edgewood, killing three and wounding two. Prince was apprehended later that day in Delaware, where he allegedly shot and wounded another person. Prince is scheduled to be tried first in Delaware.

Harford has also been on edge in the weeks since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Fla., that left 17 students and staff dead. Several local high schools have dealt with reports of threats, most of which have been unfounded.

Glassman, who grew up in Level and lives in Darlington, was scheduled to participate in a “Public Discussion on School Safety” Thursday. He was to be joined by Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan, the Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace police chiefs and area elected officials, according to a notice posted on the Sheriff’s Office website.

Glassman did not express support for arming teachers, which has been discussed nationally as a means to combat a school shooting, saying, “we should let teachers teach.” He said he is more comfortable drawing from a pool of retired Sheriff’s Office deputies to provide added security, undergirding already established school resource officers.

Crisis center, hospital plans

Glassman also discussed his proposal for the 24/7 crisis center in his annual State of the County Address in January.

Plans for the center are the result of a partnership between the county government, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, the Harford County Health Department and the nonprofit Healthy Harford, he said in the speech. Glassman also announced plans to allocate $250,000 in the still-developing fiscal 2019 budget toward the crisis center.

The county executive told The Aegis last Friday he envisions a “triage center” with emergency beds and “wraparound services” through which people with mental health and addiction issues can receive treatment. He said the location would be “somewhere that’s fairly private, where you can pull in and get those kind of services,” if a loved one is having a crisis over the weekend or in the early morning hours.

Glassman also praised Upper Chesapeake Health’s emphasis on behavioral health services as part of its Vision 2020 plan. That plan calls for closing Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, opening a free-standing medical center with a psychiatric hospital on property Upper Chesapeake owns near Bulle Rock as well as expanding Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, where many of the medical and surgical services offered in Havre de Grace would be consolidated.

The plan, which must be approved by the state, is controversial in the Havre de Grace area. Residents and elected officials are concerned about the economic impact of closing a downtown anchor such as Harford Memorial and how patients would fare, if they must be transported to Bel Air for the appropriate medical services.

Glassman said he would prefer having two full-service hospitals in Harford County, but acknowledged the financial challenges facing nonprofit health systems such as Upper Chesapeake as health care costs rise: He anticipates “double-digit” cost increases for county employees’ health insurance next year.

“The more hospitals that can stay open the better, but in this economy you can’t force a nonprofit to run two hospitals that they don’t have [insurance] reimbursements to recover,” he said.

Glassman said he thinks the standalone health center providing at can provide services such as mental health and emergency care is “the next best thing.”

Another of his goals, one Glassman admits has been elusive, will bring more county control over the privately run volunteer fire and EMS service. Similar to what he has done with the county’s emergency medical system — which moved under supervision of the county’s director of emergency services — Glassman would like to see the emergency services director serve as the county’s fire chief.

“We don’t want to take over the fire scene operations,” he said. He wants administrative control over the fire system for fiduciary and liability reasons as the county is still a major funding source for most of the 11 private volunteer fire companies, he said. A 12th company, the Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps, provides EMS only.

Glassman has been working with the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association to develop legislation for submission to the County Council. The earliest a bill could be introduced would be September, Cindy Mumby, Glassman’s spokesperson, said last Friday.

She said the bill would give the director of emergency services administrative oversight only, not the ability to take command of firefighting operations.

Mumby said in a follow-up interview Sunday that oversight could be used in situations such as an “impasse” among members of the Fire & EMS association.

The county has also taken what Glassman called a “baby step” in establishing a county-run EMS to support the services provided by fire companies using volunteers and paid paramedics.

The county placed one ambulance in service in January with a second scheduled to enter service this summer. The first ambulance, based at the Forest Hill Airpark, could end up handling 700 to 800 calls this year, Glassman said.

Mumby said that is a “ballpark figure” and subject to change, since the ambulance has only been in service about one month.

Glassman said the county ambulance has helped with call volume at the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company and at neighboring companies.

He acknowledged it is a “sea change” for the fire companies, but that “all these units are out there to serve somebody that needs an ambulance.”

“The only thing that matters to me is, Citizen X gets the help when they need it,” Glassman said.

Economy, finances improve

Glassman, looking at the final nine months of his term, said economic indicators, such as income tax and transfer tax revenue, are up.

Some of his goals for 2018 include holding down the county’s debt level and paying it down; getting state and national certification for the county’s historic preservation program to obtain state and federal grants; and greater investment in agricultural preservation.

Glassman has been in politics for about 30 years, with prior service on the County Council, in the Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate. He said he enjoys being county executive, despite the complexities of the job that make being in the state legislature “a breeze.”

“I do enjoy the people side,” he said. “I’m born and raised here [in Harford County]. I like making a difference; I want to do some things that will last a long time.”

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