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Candidates for Howard County executive go head to head at forum

The two candidates vying for Howard County executive in the Nov. 6 general election went head to head during a forum Wednesday night on a number of topics, chief among them, flood mitigation after deadly floods ravaged historic Ellicott City twice within two years.

Sponsored by the League of Women Voters and held at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City, the face-off between incumbent Republican Allan Kittleman and Democrat Calvin Ball, a councilman who represents the Columbia area, debated zoning, education and flood mitigation.

Kittleman touted his five-year, $50 million proposal for historic Ellicott City to demolish 10 buildings from lower Main Street in order to create an open space and expand the channel for the Tiber River; razing two buildings from the middle of Main Street to widen the Hudson River bend; and demolishing seven on the western side of the historic district.

Funding for the proposal, which has been criticized by historic preservationists and residents, will be voted on by the council next Monday.

“Let me be clear, life safety is paramount,” Kittleman said. “And we’re gonna make sure that Ellicott City is safe. And if we don’t do this folks, Ellicott City is not going to continue because people are not going to come back and businesses are not going to build.”

Ball lamented that Councilman Jon Weinstein, a Democrat who represents the historic district, was the only council member involved in creation of the $50 million plan that “all Howard county taxpayers are being asked to move forward with.”

“There needs to be a bigger broader vision addressing all of the floods and stormwaters throughout [all of] Howard County,” Ball said, and did not elaborate on what that vision is.

Ball said planning budgets works best when the county executive engages in a “collaborative” process with the council and suggested Kittleman has not done so during his four-year tenure.

Kittleman countered Ball’s assertion, saying that throughout his tenure, he has invited council members to monthly meetings to talk about whatever they want, including budgeting. Kittleman insisted that the process through which he drafts budgets is collaborative “because I go out to citizens requesting their input. Not waiting for them to come to me,” he said, adding that he hosts multiple town halls per year.

Ball, who was endorsed by the Howard County Education Association, expressed concern that “insufficient funds in the budget” prompts the school system to cut services meant for “vulnerable” students, though he did not elaborate on which services were cut.

“We need to make sure we invest each and everyone of our students because that investment is an investment in our future,” said Ball.

Kittleman touted his administration’s “close relationship” with the Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network, a local nonprofit that supports foreign-born residents. Kittleman said he has directed the police department to do outreach in immigrant communities and said immigrants feel welcomed in Howard based on his conversations with community leaders.

“We need to support everybody in Howard County whether they’re an undocumented immigrant or a citizen,” said Kittleman, who is endorsed by the outgoing Weinstein, Gov. Larry Hogan and multiple law enforcement groups. “I think that people need to feel safe in their communities.”

“I see people who are uncomfortable and who are still sometimes afraid. Children who fear their parents won’t be there when they get back. And I think we can do a much better job in addressing these issues and standing up for what’s right,” Ball said in response.

Kittleman said the legislation to make Howard County a sanctuary county that was co-sponsored by Ball was one of the “worst things that happened to the county.”

The legislation, which came came amid a national dialogue triggered by the election of President Trump who made the deportation of undocumented immigrants a highlight of his candidacy, would have restricted Howard officials from providing certain information about undocumented immigrants to federal immigration agents. It was vetoed by Kittleman.

Ball has previously said he has no plans re-introduce sanctuary county legislation.

The forum was coupled with debates among the nine candidates for County Council.

Early voting begins Oct. 25. To search the list of Howard County early voting sites go to https://bit.ly/2eqm9Zn.

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