Don Mohler retired six months ago, but not really.
Oh, and then a podcast.
“In some respects, the joke is, I thought he retired, but he didn’t,” said Jennifer Lynch, principal at Hillcrest Elementary School and Mohler’s daughter.
Mohler, six months removed from his time as county executive, said he felt an “overwhelming emotion” of “gratification and appreciation” the morning after County Executive Johnny Olszeswski Jr. was sworn in and he retired.
“During that seven months [from May-December 2018] , it really did feel, it sounds like a cliché , sounds hokey, but it really did feel like we were a family,” Mohler said in an interview in Catonsville, where he lives, referring to the people he worked with during his short tenure as county executive.
He said what he misses most about the job is the people he worked with and got to meet.
Mohler became county executive unexpectedly when former county executive Kevin Kamenetz died suddenly of cardiac arrest in May 2018. Mohler, who had been his chief of staff, was selected as Kamenetz’s replacement by the Baltimore County Council in a unanimous vote.
“I like the camaraderie of the team,” Mohler said. “I enjoyed solving problems with a team.”
When it comes to how Baltimore County is operating today, Mohler declined to set a hypothetical agenda were he still in charge. But he’s pleased with how Olszewski has been operating and the appointments he has made, he said.
“He has this bright, young, energetic, enthusiastic team. And I think that’s why Baltimore County's future is so bright,” Mohler said. The former executive also said he was in favor of the tax increases that Olszewski and the County Council passed in late May.
“No one is ever pleased” to pay more in taxes, “but I think it was necessary,” Mohler said.
And though Mohler may have left office, his fingerprints are on the tax increases, as well as other county projects.
He chaired a budget commission put together by Olszewski , and he had said before that in order for the county to continue offering all its services to residents, it would have to bring in more revenue.
Mohler said the commission, which published an interim report in February that said the county’s budget process “lacks transparency, stifles innovation, and discourages accountability,” is expected to publish a final report soon.
The interim report also hinted at a tax increase, urging the county government to realize it had limits within “current tax rates and fee structures.”
Olszewski said Mohler was a “proactive, engaged, caring” county executive and that Mohler gave him a platform and a footing he could “spring off of” upon taking office. He added that he appreciates Mohler’s work for the county since leaving office.
The county executive joked that as long as Mohler keeps saying “yes” when asked, he could not see a reason “why we [wouldn’t] keep asking him to work.” Olszewski added that Mohler, as a county resident, former teacher, former principal at Catonsville High and Sparrows Point Middle and assistant superintendent, former county employee and ex-county executive, has a “360-degree view” of Baltimore County.
“I would say Don is a friend, he’s a mentor, he’s a resource,” Olszewski said. “To have someone who has recent lived experience is helpful, and I’m grateful that he’s that resource … Whether its coffee, a phone call or a quick text, it’s great to have a sounding board.”
In late January, Mohler started working with County Council Chairman Tom Quirk, an Oella Democrat, and members of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce to find solutions for a lack of parking along Frederick Road in Catonsville.
“Working with him is great, we talk often,” Quirk said. “If I get stuck on something, I’ll call Don and get his advice and thoughts.”
Mohler, though, is not the type to sit around and wait for people to come to him asking questions, or to ask him to be a spokesperson or consultant. He doesn’t want to be anyone’s “hired gun,” he said, and instead wants to focus on projects that are important to him.
So he started writing. Mohler said he’s always enjoyed writing as an outlet, and that he has “no shortage of opinions,” so a blog, titled “This and That,” felt like a natural extension.
“I want to think about it as people sitting around the front porch and having a glass of wine, having a beer, just talking about things here,” Mohler said.
He’s recruited his daughter, Lynch, to be a regular contributor. Lynch’s life experience — a PhD., a principal, a mother of five, a former school psychologist — gives her a “variety” of important topics she can touch on, Mohler said.
Mohler has also started a podcast, “Baltimore Positive,” with Nestor Aparicio, owner of WNST-AM 1570 and a former Baltimore Sun sports reporter. The two met decades ago, when Aparicio was a student at Dundalk High School and Mohler was a guidance counselor.
“He was a guy who made me believe in myself when I was a kid,” Aparicio said. “We’ve been friends forever.”
The idea of the podcast, which has already drawn guests like Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger and former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, is to “spread the good news” and “inspire and move our city forward,” according to its website.
“Other cities have turned it around, there’s no reason we can’t turn it around,” said Aparicio, who lives downtown in Baltimore. “I want to be a person that sheds light on that the rest of my life.”
Mohler said the podcast has kind of “exploded” and that he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback. In addition to elected leaders past and present, Mohler said he wants to have guests who are “doing the hard work,” like community leaders and members of the nonprofit community.
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The former executive doesn’t know for certain what he’ll be doing in the future, or what kind of work he might get into with his firm, Mohler Communication Strategies. When asked about a future in politics — say, if there happens to be a job for him in a future Democratic presidential administration — Mohler said it’s not something he’d rule out with certainty, and then joked, “I think that scream we hear is my wife.”
But one thing he knows for sure is that he won’t be leaving Catonsville. Years ago, he and Linda bought a house in Ellicott City, just a matter of miles down the road. Mohler recounts being unable to sleep that night, and getting the deposit back the next day.
He couldn’t find it in himself to move out of the village that had raised him.
“For me, it’s about roots, it’s about family,” Mohler said. “It’s a feeling of home for me.”
This story has been updated.