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Where there is a will, Howard's Macfarlane finds a way [Political Notebook]

Earlier this month, incumbent Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane announced his intention to run for re-election in 2014. Which begs an important question: What exactly does a register of wills do?

As might be inferred from his title, Macfarlane is an attorney who works with wills. More specifically, he helps to guide county residents who have lost a loved one through the process of distributing the deceased's property based on stipulations in their will.

Macfarlane and his staff of seven help family members fill out all the forms required in the probate process.

They also try to lighten the load of grieving clients. "I think most importantly we really try to make sure that everyone who comes here feels that they are being cared for," Macfarlane said, "and that what can seem like a very complicated and overwhelming process is actually very manageable."

Macfarlane, 30, of North Laurel, was elected in 2010, defeating six-term Republican incumbent Kay K. Hartlieb by 250 votes.

He is the first openly gay elected official in Howard County. Macfarlane said one of his proudest moments on the job so far was when the Maryland legislature approved the marriage equality act.

"After being elected, I made sure to go to [Annapolis] to talk about the unfairness that gay and lesbian couples go through in the probate process," he said.

Other reforms he has lobbied for include increasing allowances for family and funeral expenses before distributing the estate and paying off creditors.

No other candidates have filed yet for the register of wills position.

Homecoming in District 1

Ahh, fall. A time for pumpkins, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie… and political fundraisers.

The District 1 council race had two last week, and each event said a good deal about who the two Democratic candidates are and where they call home.

Ellicott City businessman Jon Weinstein held his fundraiser Oct. 10 at Weddings and Events on Main Street in Ellicott City. The rainy-day event had about 30 attendees, including a bevy of local politicians: Courtney Watson, Calvin Ball, Tom Coale, Guy Guzzone, Dan Medinger and Clarence Lam.

Weinstein emphasized ties with the Ellicott City business community. Weddings and Events owner Paige Fuss is a friend of his, and he cited support from Main Street businesses the Wine Bin, Portalli's and the Rumor Mill.

"There's a theme here tonight: It's about celebrating Main Street, but more importantly celebrating the community," Weinstein said. "The people that make it up, the merchants that support it, the people that support it."

Dave Grabowski's fundraiser was also about community — this time in Elkridge. The former Planning Board member chose the location — Pfeiffer's Schoolhouse in Rockburn Park — because "this is the place where it all started" for him.

As a founder of the Elkridge Adult Athletic Association three decades ago, Grabowski spent a lot of time playing softball and when he heard that Howard County wanted to create its first regional park at Rockburn, he decided to get involved as a community advocate.

"It became easier to be involved after that because Elkridge, District 1 and Howard County are home," he said. "I wanted to help make it better."

Although this reporter arrived at the tail end of the event, she spotted School Board member Ellen Flynn Giles among the attendees. Courtney Watson also came to the event, which Grabowski said had a turnout of about 40 people.

Although their events highlighted their community connections in Ellicott City and Elkridge, both Weinstein and Grabowski said they are reaching out to the entire district.

Weinstein said he was nearing a goal of knocking on 2,000 doors across the district. Grabowski emphasized the importance of working as a unified District 1.

"We need to preserve all the good we have and prepare for the future by working together," he said.

Jim Hyatt, we hardly knew ye

A potential fourth District 12 candidate from Howard County is out of the race before officially jumping in.

Though Jim Hyatt, an Elkridge Democrat and owner of Exit Realty, in Columbia, had announced his intention to run for a delegate seat and had created a Facebook page for his candidacy that had garnered about 300 "likes" by early October, he said last week that he had decided to drop out of the race.

Hyatt said the decision was based on a need to focus more time on family and the real estate firm.

"It really came down to the time commitment and the fact that it was taking me away from my family, two young kids, and the business," he said.

Hyatt said he would still remain active in supporting other campaigns and didn't rule out a future run.

"I just feel like at this point in my life I need to reconsider my political career," he said. "Not to say I'm not going to revisit it in the future, but at this point I need to focus on other priorities."

Public campaign funding

In the spirit of Halloween, here's an initiative to send a shiver down the spine of many an elected official: public funding of local campaigns.

Last session, the General Assembly passed the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013, which authorizes local governments to establish public financing for elections.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of transparent-elections advocacy group Common Cause Maryland, made a pitch for public funding at the County Council's monthly meeting Oct. 14.

"There has never been a more important time to be a good leader in government than now," she told council members. "D.C. is abominable, people are losing hope. Get engaged locally, because that's where people are still making progress, that's where real results are happening."

This might just be the right council to create a public-funding program — all five council members are term limited.

Bevan-Dangel appealed to Howard County's tradition of being first in state matters — Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties are each considering establishing a public campaign fund, but haven't passed any bills yet.

Ball, Guzzone help Brown/Ulman

District 2 County Council member Calvin Ball, District 13 Del. Guy Guzzone and Democratic organizer Mary Marker have been tapped by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and County Executive Ken Ulman to lead the grassroots organization effort in Howard County for their gubernatorial campaign.

The three said they were supporting Brown because of his record as lieutenant governor. They highlighted his efforts to expand health care, reduce domestic violence, promote middle-class job growth and support public schools.

Marker works with Organizing For Action, President Barack Obama's community organizing group. She led Howard County organizing efforts in 2012, and later branched out to Maryland and Virginia. 

Before becoming a council member, Ball was a community organizer in Oakland Mills. He and Guzzone were both members of Young Democrats. 

"It's a dream team," Ball said of the group. 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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