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Harford's Slutzky rescinds new security policy

Harford Council president: "Any reported changes [to approaching the dais] are canceled"

Harford residents, who frequent County Council meetings, said they were glad to hear Council President Richard Slutzky had pulled his short-lived policy that residents and media not approach the dais after meetings.

As abruptly as he had announced the policy the week before, Slutzky just as abruptly retracted the council's new security policy at Tuesday night's meeting. He apologized for his action that sparked a community backlash and divided the council.

Residents like Morita Bruce, who often speak at council meetings on hot-button issues, said they were happy about the sudden reversal.

"I am delighted that the policy of not being able to come up after the meeting and being able to talk to our councilman across the dais has been changed," Bruce said Wednesday.

She said she was encouraged by Slutzky's apparent change of heart.

"I find that encouraging. I am very glad that he responded so quickly," Bruce said. "We all make mistakes, but the mark of a good person is the ability to admit mistakes, and it looks like he did that."

"The more they can do to encourage people to get involved, the better," she said, adding she hoped council meetings could become more user-friendly in other ways, too.

"Last week, mistakes were made regarding customary council practices," Slutzky read from a statement toward the end of Tuesday's council meeting, the last one in 2014.

He said it was "clear" that residents expect the council to continue past policies.

"Any reported changes are canceled," Slutzky said, adding that new council spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson would continue to be available "to offer assistance as requested."

The policy, e-mailed by Johnson last week, asked citizens and members of the media not to come up to the dais after meetings.

Slutzky cited security concerns, including possible international terrorism, and said council members would instead have to choose to step down into the audience to talk to people.

The policy drew a quick backlash from the community and divided the council, with many of the council members scrambling to reassure residents that they would still be available and easily accessible.

After the meeting Tuesday, Slutzky confirmed that he was responding to the community's concern about the new policy.

Regarding his earlier concerns about safety in the council chambers, Slutzky would not say exactly whether security measures would be changing.

"The first rule of security is, don't talk about security," Slutzky said, paraphrasing the movie "Fight Club."

Councilman Jim McMahan, an incumbent who supported the policy, said during the meeting that Slutzky has been very "frank, honest and accepted responsibility for every misstep we took in our first two meetings."

After the meeting, McMahan bellowed at the audience to "come on up" to the dais.

Councilman Joe Woods, an incumbent who said last week he was fine with a "safety zone" around the dais, said after Tuesday's meeting that he was not surprised Slutzky overturned the policy.

Woods noted he had already said he would ignore any attempt to put barriers between him and residents, and said he would always be available by phone despite the presence of a new spokesperson.

Slutzky also said he hopes to make "a more user-friendly process" for letting residents speak at council meetings, which he expects to roll out in January.

He said he has had "a variety of responses" from residents and suggestions from staff members on improving the process.

Two residents who signed up to speak about the security policy Tuesday were caught off guard by the sudden reversal.

Robert Banker told the council he was "betwixt and between" because "I was going to give you guys hell" about the policy, but now his point was moot.

"Thank you for pulling the rug out from under me," Banker said.

Verna White also said she hoped every citizen would continue to feel heard and be able to talk to their representative.

"I was extremely glad and happy to be here tonight," she told the council.

New administrator, department heads

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council unanimously voted to appoint Mylia Dixon, former administrative specialist, as the new council administrator.

Dixon said she has been a council employee since April 30, 2012.

The council also unanimously approved County Executive Barry Glassman's department head appointments.

The department directors are: Billy Boniface, Administration; Melissa Lambert, Law Department; Jim Richardson, Department of Human Resources; James Malone, Department of Parks and Recreation; Bradley Killian, Department of Planning and Zoning; Ted Pibil, Office of Information and Communication Technology; Robert Sandlass Jr., Department of Treasury; Edward Hopkins, Department of Emergency Services; Karen Rottmann, Department of Procurement; Tim Whittie, Department of Public Works; Leonard Parrish, Housing Agency; Amber Shrodes, Department of Community Services; Karen Holt, Office of Economic Development; Paul Lawder, Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits; Bret Schreiber, Office of Governmental and Community Relations.

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