Bel Air's Board of Town Commissioners voted Monday to keep the same leadership for the another year, but the biggest news coming out of the town meeting is the retirement of two longtime town employees, Town Administrator Joyce Oliver and Jimmy Kennard of the public works department.
The board voted unanimously to continue with Eddie Hopkins as its chairman and Rob Reier as vice chairman, posts both have held since last November. With the chairmanship also goes the ceremonial title of "mayor" for Hopkins.
Kennard, who works in refuse collection and is well-known throughout the town, was praised by Hopkins and the other commissioners for his long service.
Hopkins called Kennard "incredibly friendly and talented," as he presented him with a gift card to Home Depot. The mayor also noted Kennard is probably better known than the town's elected officials, citing his own children as an example.
The honors for Kennard were planned as part of the meeting's agenda; however, Oliver announced her departure in her typical low key fashion during the regular business part of the meeting. Commissioners said afterward they were aware beforehand that Oliver, whose last day will be Dec. 27, would be retiring, but they also said it will be hard to get used to not seeing her at town hall.
"Back when my husband [Steve Burdette] served as mayor, I asked him why everything was so orderly, and he said it was because of Joyce," Commissioner Susan Burdette said. Both Burdette and Reier said it will not be an easy job replacing Oliver.
Oliver said she has worked for the town for 28 years, and she and her husband, Richard, will be relocating to Savannah, Ga., where they recently purchased a home. Richard Oliver, who works as an addictions counselor at Spring Grove State Hospital in Catonsville, is also retiring and the couple has a son who will be relocating to Savannah from South Carolina.
"I'm looking forward to the warm weather; it's really a great place, very laid back," Joyce Oliver said of the couple's move south. She also noted Georgia is a much friendlier state than Maryland when it comes to taxes, particularly for retirees.
Oliver said she grew up in Forest Hill and graduated from Bel Air High School, then attended college at Eastern Nazarene College outside of Boston for a couple of years before transferring to Towson State, from which she graduated.
"I've been around here most of my life," she said of Bel Air, while also pointing out that unlike Kennard, she won't be staying around much longer.
"He really likes Bel Air," she said.
Over the years, first under the late Bill McFaul and now under current town manager Chris Schlehr, Bel Air town government has attained a reputation for reliable citizen services and prudent management provided by a courteous and helpful town staff. One of the reasons has been Oliver, who arguably is the most familiar face to members of the public when they visit town hall.
Following Monday's meeting, Hopkins said he decided he wanted to serve a second year as town board chairman in keeping with a two-year rotation the town board has been following that coincides with the period between town elections.
Hopkins said he anticipates having few, if any, conflicts in carrying out his duties as the elected leader of town government, while also working in his new job as the public information officer for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, where he starts Monday. Hopkins is also chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, a post in which he also plans to continue.
"Most of the meetings and other business here [at town hall] are at night," he said. "There may be occasions where I might have to be here during the day, and I'll have to take leave time from my job, but I'm confident I can work everything out."
He also said he works well with Reier, who will be in line to succeed Hopkins as chairman next November.
The commissioners also honored Josh Murrell, a Bel Air Middle School student, for his outstanding achievements in school work and extra-curricular activities, which include playing on a travel soccer team, serving as a student government officer and being on the school's championship Destination Imagination team.
Reier complimented the sixth-grader, calling him a "dedicated, passionate, team-spirited individual," as Josh's parents, grandparents, brother and one of his teachers beamed in the audience.
The commissioners also introduced an amendment to the Noise Ordinance that will allow police to issue violations if they observe the effects of vibrations on nearby properties. A public hearing on the proposed change will be held prior to the Dec. 3 town meeting.
The commissioners passed changes to the personnel policy regarding compliance with the Federal Family Medical Leave Act and also awarded a three-year contract to Complus Data Innovations for processing town parking tickets.
Under the latter, the contractor will receive a fee based on 20 percent of fine revenue from parking tickets on Maryland registered vehicles and 20 percent on out-of-state registered vehicles. The estimated annual cost to the town is $25,000.