xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Baltimore County Council to vote on extending county executive’s emergency powers

Baltimore County Council is meeting remotely Thursday to consider extending its emergency declaration a third time as the state slowly reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. declared an emergency order in March for state assistance in obtaining personnel and equipment to respond to the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus. The order allows Olszewski to restrict restaurants, businesses, churches and other places where people gather. The Democrat wants the council to extend his executive action for 45 days because the orders otherwise expire next week.

Advertisement

County Councilman Todd Crandell, however, wants to revoke Olszewski’s emergency powers. Gov. Larry Hogan has lifted Maryland’s stay-at-home order, but Olszewski’s orders, “for the most part,” are keeping churches and small businesses closed, Crandell said.

“Everyone was willing to abide by what the government was telling them to do, but now we’re two months into it and there’s a greater understanding of how this virus works,” Crandell said. “We know what the susceptible populations are, so the focus should be placed on those susceptible populations.”

Advertisement

The Republican governor has enacted a “Safer at Home” advisory, which allows manufacturing, retail, haircuts and worship services to resume with limitations.

As Hogan’s order took effect last week, Olszewski urged people to continue to stay home, adding that the county is still prohibiting gatherings with 10 or more people. Retail stores in the county can re-open for curbside pick-up and delivery, but personal services and indoor religious services remain closed.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, a Democrat, also has expressed concerns that the Baltimore-region isn’t ready to relax certain restrictions amid the pandemic. Young’s fellow Democrats, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, also imposed rules more restrictive than Hogan’s updated order.

Meanwhile, a group known as ReOpen Maryland has been protesting Hogan’s lockdown measures, and now a ReOpen Baltimore County group is planning a Friday rally in Towson. Tony Campbell, a Towson University professor and one of the group’s organizers, said none of the counties "have the authority to supersede what the governor has said” about closing and reopening statewide.

The counties need a coordinated plan in reopening everywhere, Campbell said. The Republican stressed, for instance, that nothing would stop an Anne Arundel resident from getting a haircut in Harford County regardless of restrictions in the former.

“You see where the dominoes are going to fall because if Baltimore County’s Council [extends the executive actions], then it’s showing precedent that other local jurisdictions can do the same thing,” Campbell said.

Pastors and churchgoers alike have told Crandell they feel like “their constitutional rights are being infringed” because they have the freedom to assemble and worship “as they please.” The Dundalk Republican said small business owners feel like their operations are affected by lockdowns that haven’t forced closures at large businesses such as Walmart.

Olszewski should reopen small businesses and churches in the county with safety precautions, Crandell said.

Sean Naron, Olszewski’s spokesman, said in a statement that “Councilman Crandell is playing a partisan game with life or death stakes."

“The State of Maryland and our neighboring jurisdictions remain under states of emergency because we remain in the midst of a battle with a highly infectious and deadly disease," Naron said. “This is simply bad judgement.”

County Council’s session will be held online at 10 a.m. Details for viewing the meeting are available on the council’s website.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement