Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced several new members of his leadership team Wednesday — including naming former Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith as press secretary.
A consistent face for the Baltimore Police Department, Smith resigned from his role there in October, citing an unstable environment, “mudslinging” and “political turmoil” within the department as the main reasons for his departure.
Olszewski also named Rhoda Benjamin as director of human resources, Jeff Mayhew as acting director of planning, and Mike Mohler as acting director of permits, approvals and inspections.
In a statement, Olszewski said his appointments reflect his goal of making the county “more innovative, transparent, and responsive to the needs of residents and communities.”
Benjamin was previously the chief human resources officer for the Department of Housing and Community Development in Baltimore. She replaces George Gay.
Mayhew takes over the department previously headed by Andrea Van Arsdale, who announced her retirement. He has worked for the agency since 1990, most recently as deputy director.
Mohler, the brother of former county executive Don Mohler, has worked for the county since 2005, most recently overseeing the liquor board and rental registration. He replaces Arnold Jablon.
Benjamin is set to begin Jan. 14 at a salary of $180,000, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said. The other appointments are effective immediately, she said. Mayhew, Mohler and Smith will each be paid $150,000 annually.
The county is posting the jobs for the planning and permit departments, Kobler said. She said the administration has encouraged Mayhew and Mohler to apply, “but will give serious consideration to any qualified candidate.”
Smith, 41, who had served as spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Police Department before joining city police in 2015, said he is excited to work for Olszewski, who he called “a young, energetic, transformative and transparent leader.”
Olszewski, who goes by the nickname “Johnny O,” is a plain talker who “reminds me of myself,” Smith said.
Smith said he hopes to bring that same plainspoken manner, his experience in crisis communications and a goal of “collaborative regionalism” to the job, which he will start on Thursday.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Smith said. “[Olszewski] just wants the people to understand things in a very digestible way.”
Smith, who has been discussed as a potential challenger to Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh in 2020, declined to say whether the move had any bearing on his future political aspirations.
He still plans to move from his Owings Mills home in the county to one Northwest Baltimore.
“A lot of people have thoughts on what I should be doing, but I’m moving forward with my career,” he said. “I’ll be in a position to learn at a high level from a young, energetic leader in a huge county, one of the largest across the country.
“This is nothing but more experience for me.”
All department directors are subject to confirmation votes by the County Council; the press secretary role is not.
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Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich, Pamela Wood and Kevin Rector contributed to this article.