Arundel Councilman Fink juggles governance, work and coming baby

In the past few months, life has gotten a lot busier for Anne Arundel County Councilman Derek Fink.

As he was tasked with considering dozens of land rezoning applications in his Pasadena district, the Republican legislator opened a new restaurant, where he logs long hours as the general manger. As he approached his second year on the council, his colleagues selected him to serve as chairman. And come the end of March, he'll be a first-time dad.

He and his wife, Kristin, are expecting a boy on March 26.

"I'm used to the long hours and will continue to do that," said Fink, who at 30 is the youngest member of the council. "It's good stuff, though. I'm going to be more excited to go home because he's going to be there waiting."

Elected to the County Council in 2010, Fink's first year was something of a roller-coaster ride. Early on, he sparred with one of his Democratic colleagues, Councilman Jamie Benoit, over Benoit's use of county-paid health insurance, which resulted in bad blood between the two.

Asked about it recently, Fink said, "Jamie and I have a working relationship now. We've moved on."

A self-described fiscal conservative, many of Fink's attempts to drastically cut costs during last year's annual county budget debate were rebuffed by a majority of his colleagues. He secured funding to build a public pier in his district. And he sponsored a series of bills that were put into law to streamline the county's permit process, though critics raised questions over how the proposal might affect Fink's business venture.

Now he's leading the council as it begins the process of selecting a new member. The council voted this month to declare the seat of Democratic Councilman Daryl D. Jones vacant as he began serving a five-month prison term on a misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return, effectively booting out one of their own.

"I'm looking forward to being whole," said Fink. "I do think it's something that needs to be done, that we can put to rest and continue to go on with county business."

Councilman Richard B. "Dick" Ladd, a Republican from the Broadneck peninsula, said that despite the growing personal pressures, Fink is "poised, approachable and very knowledgeable" about the issues.

"Derek is on the threshold of being a young family man, and that is a life-changing experience. I say that as a father and a grandfather and great-grandfather," said Ladd. "The good news is that Derek has a very good family structure in Pasadena. I know his mother and father. He's very well-positioned for success. I don't worry about him."

Fink grew up in Pasadena with his parents and elder brother. He graduated from Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, where he met his future wife. They married in 2009. As a student, he was interested in politics, and got his parents, who weren't so inclined, to register to vote.

Now, on council nights, his parents, as well as aunts, uncles and other relatives, tune in to watch Fink on the local access channel that televises council meetings.

"They all gather around the TV and watch," said Fink. "It's hilarious. They'll be like, 'We saw you. Why are they going after you?'"

Fink ran for the council seat held by Ronald C. Dillon Jr., who was term-limited, promising fiscal discipline. His win in the conservative-leaning district marked his first elected office.

"I had the political bug in me," he said. "I decided I was going to give it a whirl."

Fink majored in political science at North Carolina State University and graduated in 2004.

As a college student, he volunteered with the campaign of a gubernatorial candidate in North Carolina. He also volunteered in the press office of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., which later led to a full-time job after college working for the Republican governor.

After Martin O'Malley defeated Ehrlich in 2007, Fink was out of work. But through his Ehrlich connections, he secured a job on Capitol Hill working for Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky.

He also got involved in community issues, joining several organizations. When Steven R. Schuh, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2006, was campaigning for his seat, Fink volunteered — cementing their friendship.

Schuh, who recently announced he is considering a run for county executive in 2014, is also Fink's business partner. Along with other investors, they developed a 217-seat Greene Turtle sports bar that opened in Pasadena in October.

In addition to his ownership stake, Fink manages the restaurant's operations. The Greene Turtle has twice come up as an issue relating to his job on the council.

His role as a part-owner of the restaurant venture brought scrutiny when he introduced legislation last February to require the county to respond more quickly to building permit requests. The bills passed, and despite questions about whether the legislation would directly benefit his company, the county's Ethics Commission found no conflict of interest.

Months later, however, the Ethics Commission recommended Fink recuse himself from a vote on a rezoning request for a property near the Greene Turtle. Fink said he disagreed with the decision but recused himself anyway.

County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, praised Fink for his support of some of Leopold's key legislative issues in the last year, including a controversial proposal on binding arbitration for the county's public safety employees, which passed the council.

"He recognized the taxpayers' interest must be paramount," said Leopold, who also lives in Pasadena.

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, an Annapolis Democrat, said that while "our politics are pretty far apart," he and Fink "get along."

"He runs a good meeting, I'll give him that," said Trumbauer. "Since he's taken over the chairmanship, he's done a good job running the meetings."

Trumbauer, who has two young children, offered Fink some advice.

"If he thinks he's busy now, when he actually has the baby, he's really going to be busy," said Trumbauer. "Kids are amazing, and they also require an amazing amount of effort."

Councilman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, said he first admired Fink for his conservative politics as they both campaigned for office.

"Somebody said to me, 'There's a guy in Pasadena that talks just like you and thinks the way you think,'" said Grasso. "So I called him up and said, 'You and I are cut from the same carpet. I knew right from the get-go, if we both made it to the top, we were going to get along good."

As Fink begins his second year on the council, he said, fiscal issues are paramount. He said he will not support any tax or fee increases.

"We cannot continue to furlough our employees and expect them to come to work and get excited," said Fink. The county has furloughed its employees for the last two years. "And our police and firefighters have been battered. We've got to get police and fire back to fair wages."

Fink's agenda may play well on the Republican-dominated council.

"It's good to be in the majority," Fink said. "I think we've got a council that works together well now."