Balto. Co. Council 'not going to be rushed' on Kamenetz appointees

The Baltimore County Council will get its first crack at County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's top-level staff picks on Tuesday.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, has submitted a list of nominees largely made up of Baltimore County government veterans, some of whom have shifted positions or returned from work in the private sector.

The 17 nominees include Fred Homan, whom Kamenetz wants to keep as county administrative officer, and retired Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who would head the new Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability. Arnold E. Jablon, who has served under five executives, was tapped as chief of the Department of Permits, Inspections and Approvals and deputy administrative officer for agency accountability.

Council members will interview the nominees starting at 10 a.m., then break at 2 p.m. for a regular work session. They will resume the interviews afterward.

The interviews are scheduled in 15-minute intervals, but council members said they plan to take as long as needed.

"We're not going to be rushed," said Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat. "We will make sure that we get our questions answered."

Many of the nominees have been through the confirmation process before. A 2002 charter amendment gave the council confirmation power over all of the county executive's nominees. Previously, the council would confirm only a few appointments, such as the police and fire chiefs, in hearings that were closed to the public.

Kamenetz's predecessor, James T. Smith Jr., split up his nominees, which made for a longer confirmation process.

Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, said he does not expect any of the nominees to be rejected.

"I don't foresee anything that would arise that would eliminate someone from being confirmed. That doesn't mean something won't come up during the interviews that might be bothersome to my colleagues," Olszewski said. "I know their track record of what they've done for Baltimore County."

Olszewski said the nominees to run new or merged departments and the county administrative officer will probably face the most scrutiny.

"We'll ask the proper questions. It's a transparent process," he said.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said he is especially interested in hearing from Homan, Jablon and Edward C. Adams Jr., the county executive's pick to head public works.

"I think we will use the interviews to signal some changes that we would like for the departments and try to set a tone for the next four years," Marks said.

Marks said he believes the county executive should select his own team, but that the council should ensure that each nominee has the "experience and integrity" needed for the office.

Marks said he plans to discuss school overcrowding issues with Homan, such as whether the county should spend money on buying land for future schools in times of surplus instead of on renovations and expansions. He would like to gain insight from Adams on making the county more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. And with Jablon, he'd like to emphasize the need for better code enforcement.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, said he also expects the confirmation process to go smoothly. He plans to ask the nominees about diversity plans for their departments and how they will stay within budget.

The council will discuss during the work session Kamenetz's proposal to merge several county departments and eliminate 143 vacant jobs.

The plan calls for folding three agencies — the Office of Community Conservation, the Office of Sustainability and the Office of Workforce Development — into existing departments, combining the jobs of labor commissioner and human resources director, and merging the duties of three other positions into an Office of Administrative Law, made up of three judges.

Cutting the vacant jobs would save $7.2 million, said Kamenetz, who estimated the mergers would also save more than $750,000 by cutting four department heads' salaries and benefits.

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