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Howard County Council

The Howard County Council last week voted on two nominations to county boards that had been on hold for several months — and for a second time since Susan Garber's nomination to the Planning Board was voted down, politics has played a role in the decisions.

Ivan Betancourt, an accountant and volunteer firefighter, was confirmed as the newest member of the county's Human Rights Commission last week, with a vote of 4-1, while Kimberly Hartman, the executive director of the Columbia Pregnancy Center, was not as fortunate. Her nomination to the Local Children's Board was rejected by the council in a 1-4 vote. Both candidates were nominated by County Executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican.

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The votes came during the council's first legislative session since returning from its August recess last week.

Betancourt and Hartman had been the subject of online scrutiny as well as reservations on the part of some of the councilmembers. Betancourt, who immigrated legally to the United States from Venezuela, has been vocal about his opposition to illegal immigration. Hartman, meanwhile, was criticized for her leadership of the Columbia Pregnancy Center, which pro-choice advocates allege is a crisis pregnancy center that provides misleading information to pregnant women.

Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said last month that both nominations had been tabled to give council members time to meet individually with the nominees.

This week, she confirmed she had met with both Betancourt and Hartman.

"I was able to pursue different questions in much more depth. It mattered and it made a big difference," Sigaty said of the meetings. Though she wouldn't specify which issues she was able to resolve and which remained, she said the conversations "certainly informed my vote."

After the vote, Betancourt said he had met with all of the council members except Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat and the only council member to vote against both nominees.

"Through conversation and expressing some of my views with council members... they seemed to think I had valid reasons" for his views, Betancourt said. He added that he was disappointed he didn't have the chance to talk to Ball. "I feel like he is more concerned about the next election than the job at hand."

On the board, Betancourt said he looked forward to working on public safety-related cases, although "all human rights violations are important and need to be addressed swiftly. But I also think there are some frivolous claims and I don't want those to go anywhere."

Reached by phone, Hartman declined to comment.

Ball said he made his decision based on values.

"I chose to vote against the two nominees... because of my respect and appreciation for immigrants, my unwavering support of the DREAM Act as a way to create opportunity and my firm belief in a woman's right to choose," he wrote in an email. "When it comes to those serving on our boards and commissions, I want nominees who represent the broad based, nonpartisan values of compassion and social justice that have made Howard County a special place in this country."

Councilman Greg Fox, the only council member to vote for Hartman, called rejecting nominations based on political views "a new low" for the council.

"You didn't see me for eight years [under Democratic County Executive Ken Ulman] sitting there and voting against everyone that I disagreed with politically or otherwise," Fox said. "If you had a willing volunteer from the community, that was the last place I needed to be sitting there questioning that judgment. I think the politicizing of these appointees is a new level of poor political discourse that's being brought to the council."

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