Fred Homan, Baltimore County's veteran administrative officer, will serve as acting county executive until the County Council chooses a permanent replacement to succeed Kevin Kamenetz.
Homan, who has worked in county government since 1978, assumed the post after Kamenetz's death Thursday. As administrative officer, Homan already was responsible for much of the day-to-day operation of Maryland's third most populous county, which has about 830,000 residents and a government workforce of 7,500.
Kamenetz, 60, died early Thursday of cardiac arrest, stunning county employees and members of the County Council.
While Homan serves in an acting capacity, the county's charter, its governing document, charges the seven-member County Council with choosing a replacement by majority vote.
The replacement would serve out the remainder of Kamenetz's term, which ends in December.
Council Chairman Julian Jones said he was fielding calls Thursday from people who wanted to know what would happen next. He said he would not schedule any meeting to discuss a replacement until after Kamenetz's funeral, which is set for Friday.
Jones said it would be "inappropriate" to talk about the next steps too soon.
"For the most part, I've just been telling everyone, let's just pump our brakes and not even get into it until after Kevin is buried," the Woodstock Democrat said.
The charter does not specify when a replacement must be picked. The council's next legislative session is scheduled for May 24.
Under the charter, the new executive must belong to the same political party as Kamenetz, a Democrat, be at least 25 years old and have lived in the county for the past five years.
The council has four Democrats and three Republicans. Members were reluctant to speculate on who might fill Kamenetz's seat.
"The day-to-day operations of the county are being handled by Mr. Homan, and any dialogue about his replacement should wait until well after the funeral for the county executive," said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.
But behind the scenes, there was talk of former county executives who don't currently hold elected office being potential candidates for the post. Two former Democratic county executives, Donald Hutchinson and Ted Venetoulis, live in the county.
"It's the County Council's decision, and out of respect to Kevin Kamenetz, any conversation about who the next county executive is should take place after the funeral tomorrow and after everyone pays respects to him and the family," Hutchinson said. "It's a terribly sad time."
Former County Executive Jim Smith, also a Democrat and now a top aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, owns a home in the county and rents a condominium in the city.
Smith and Venetoulis could not be reached for comment.
The county had to replace an executive in 1974, when Dale Anderson was convicted of extortion, tax evasion and other violations. The council picked Frederick L. Dewberry Jr., then the county's administrative officer, to fill his unexpired term.
Homan was not available for an interview Thursday, a spokeswoman said.
The 65-year-old began his career with the county in what was called the Office of Central Services. He dealt with the county fleet of cars and trucks. He soon moved on to the county budget office.
In 1989, he was named the county's budget chief. Smith appointed him county administrative officer in 2006.
He was praised at the time as a fiscal conservative who was able to make tough decisions. Kamenetz, then a county councilman, said Homan "has his finger on every part of the county [government].
"Fred is not going to win the Collegiality Award of the Year by the rest of the county employees," Kamenetz said. "But that's not his job. His job is to make difficult decisions and to manage our county, and he's done both of those very well."
Homan was at the center of a controversy last year over the county's lucrative pension policy for top appointees. People raised concerns that Homan had signed guidelines from which he stood to benefit. County officials ended up scrapping the policy.
Neighboring Anne Arundel County had to fill a county executive vacancy in 2013 after John Leopold was convicted of misconduct in office and resigned.
The County Council sought applications, and heard from 16 candidates.
The council selected Laura Neuman, who was then chief of the county's Economic Development Authority.
Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.