Good evening Council President Boniface, Members of the County Council, and fellow citizens.
When I first took the oath of office as County Executive in July of 2005, Harford County was faced with a number of challenges. We had a deeply divided Council that was embroiled in a contentious Comprehensive Rezoning process, and which had just, for the first time in county history, been forced to fill a vacancy in the office of County Executive in the middle of a term.
As I said during my first swearing-in at the historic ceremonial court room, I recognized that I had not been elected by the people, but selected by the people’s representatives. I pledged to work as hard as I could to earn their trust and their confidence.
Tonight, I stand before you eight and a half years later to give my ninth and final State of the County address. Having twice been elected by the citizens of this great county, and after weathering a myriad of challenges together, I can say with a great deal of pride and assuredness that the State of Harford County is strong, solid, stable, and successful.
As my administration completes its final year, I would like to reflect on our shared accomplishments, and discuss how key investments in infrastructure and the implementation of comprehensive management strategies have positioned Harford for success in the years to come.
Shortly after taking office, I identified the six pillars on which my administration would be built. These were: Public Safety, Education, Efficiency in Government, Economic Opportunity, Environmental Stewardship, and Quality Living.
Over the last eight-plus years, my Administration has endeavored to improve the county’s performance in each one of these areas, and I believe that we have done that.
Public Safety – These are the services which our citizens hope they never need but which will touch all of us at some point. Our mission is to ensure that Harford County's Public 2
Safety services have the necessary tools and training to meet the County's growing demand for emergency services.
During my term in office, we have dealt with dozens of snowstorms, numerous hurricanes and tropical storms, and even an earthquake. Through the hard work of the county’s emergency services staff and highways crews, and coordination from all of our departments and partner agencies, we were able to lead response and recovery efforts with a minimal loss in services.
Recognizing that the emergency needs of a growing Harford County needed to be reevaluated and measured against the service expectations of the twenty-first century, we commissioned the county’s first Fire & EMS Master Plan, which was completed in 2009.
One of the key recommendations of that study was the creation of a Department of Emergency Services with a cabinet-level director to ensure the highest quality of service and to support the county’s first responders. I am pleased that with the support of the County Council, and in working closely with the county’s Volunteer Fire & EMS Service, the Department of Emergency Services was created early last year.
To complement the new department, we also created the Fire & EMS Commission to work with the volunteer fire service to bring greater accountability of government resources. And finally, to provide our emergency personnel with an adequate facility in which to coordinate response efforts, a new and very badly-needed Emergency Operations Center in Hickory is under construction and scheduled to open later this year.
As a former teacher I have seen first-hand the dangers of substance abuse among minors, and I also have seen that for many of our at-risk youths, the easiest drugs to abuse are those already inside their homes.
Through the hard work of the county’s Office of Drug Control Policy and with help from the Sheriff’s Office, the Maryland State Police, and the DEA, I am pleased to report that we have taken over five tons of unused prescription drugs off the streets, out of our waterways, out of medicine cabinets, and most importantly, out of the reach of those who could abuse them.
Education – Preparing now, Building for the future. This more than any of the other pillars of my administration holds a special place in my heart. It was a bittersweet day in 2005 when I retired from a job that I loved after 34 years in Harford County Public Schools in order to become County Executive.
I pledged that the county would make long-term investments in education by ensuring that children have a safe and stimulating environment in which to learn and to encourage and promote the availability of academic and technical programs that prepare all students to compete in the global marketplace.
With the help and support of the county council, we committed $500 million – one half of a billion dollars – in school construction, school remodeling and modernizations, and other capital improvements. We forward-funded the construction of one brand new elementary school, as well as the replacement of three obsolete high schools and one elementary school with buildings capable of meeting the needs of Harford’s students and teachers for many decades into the future.
When I took office, there were 26 schools operating above capacity, and 94 portable classrooms in use. While declining enrollment has alleviated much of the problem, additional capacities made possible by capital investments by the county and a difficult but necessary round of elementary school redistricting by the Board of Education has ended the severe overcrowding that plagued our school system for the last two decades.