All seven seats on the Harford County Council will be filled by county voters in the Nov. 6 general election for which eight days of early voting started Thursday.
The council is the legislative branch of county government. In addition to enacting all local laws affecting residents outside the county’s three municipalities of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, the council is the final authority for what the county government spends each year – including significant funding to run the public school system and build its facilities – and the county’s final authority on zoning matters. In the latter role, it has significant power over what can or can’t be developed in Harford County.
We have long held the position that when an individual seeks election to a Harford County Council seat, he or she understands the expectations of the position, including the salary. The people who wrote the county charter between 1970-72, which was duly adopted by county voters in the latter of those years, envisioned a citizen legislative body whose members would hold other jobs and not be full-time council members, unless he or she chose voluntarily to make it their sole occupation.
Among the seven council members who have served since December 2014, three: Joe Woods, District B; Chad Shrodes, District D; and Curtis Beulah, District F; are running for new terms. Woods has served since 2010, Shrodes since 2006 and Beulah since 2014. Patrick Vincenti, also elected to the council in 2014, is running for the council presidency, which is open because of the retirement of outgoing president Richard Slutzky.
The outgoing council, all Republican and all male, the latter for the first time since 1974-78, had very little to show in the way of legislative accomplishment, primarily enacting bills sent over by the administration of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman. It did pass a highly contentious Comprehensive Zoning Review, the full consequences of which will not be known for several years, and it also approved a pay increase averaging 17 percent for the next council president and six district council members elected in the coming two weeks.
We expressed our displeasure with the raises, which we felt were unnecessary for citizen legislators who already receive annual cost of living increases and are eligible to receive county government medical benefits.
While we recognize the salary increases follow procedures proscribed by the county charter, all four of the incumbents on the ballot had an opportunity to vote for or against them and each believed it was in his best interest to vote for them. As a result, we in turn cannot endorse any of them for putting themselves before the people they serve. This does not mean they aren’t fit to hold office; in many respects and by virtue of experience alone, Woods, Shrodes, Beulah and Vincenti are eminently more qualified than their respective opponents, but we will leave the final decision on their future as council members up to the wisdom of the voters.
With regard to the three seats for which no incumbent is running, we find both Republican Donna Blasdell and Andre Johnson in District A (Edgewood and Joppatowne) would be a welcome addition to the council; however, we give an edge to Blasdell, who has been an aide to outgoing District A Councilman Mike Perrone the past four years.
In District E (Aberdeen, Churchville, Fountain Green), the Republican candidate Robert Wagner is a former 12-year district council member and four-year council president seeking to return to the council after a 12-year absence, while the Democrat candidate Bridgette Johnson has never held elected office. While we compliment Wagner for his prior service, we agree with Johnson’s contention the County Council needs new a new direction and new perspectives and believe she will bring both, which are sorely needed.
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For the third open seat in District C (Forest Hill, Bel Air), Republican Tony “G” Giangiordano has campaigned as a conservative small business owner and Democrat Karen Kukurin is running as a moderate, who has been active in groups such as Harford Climate Action, Friends of Harford and Harford Land Trust. Both appear qualified and, as such, we make no recommendation.