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Howard councilman criticizes County Executive Ball over refusal to allow auditor to attend bond rating trip

Howard councilman criticizes County Executive Ball over refusal to allow auditor to attend bond rating trip
District 5 Councilman David Yungmann asks a question during a Howard County Council meeting. Yungmann has expressed concern for County Executive Calvin Ball’s decision to not invite the county auditor on a bond rating trip to New York. (Baltimore Sun Media Group file)

A councilman is criticizing Howard County Executive Calvin Ball for his decision to not invite the county auditor to the annual bond rating trip in New York City.

County officials each year travel to New York City for a one-day trip where they meet the three bond rating agencies — Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch — that assess the credit rating. Howard County currently holds a top AAA bond rating from all three agencies.

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The trip has in the past been attended by the county executive, council chair, Chief Administrative Officer Lonnie Robbins, Director of Finance Janet Irvin and, since 2012, County Auditor Craig Glendenning.

Glendenning, who reports to the legislative branch, was not invited by Ball on the trip this year.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Ball, in a statement said, “The financial advisers to the county have indicated that, from a rating agency perspective, the best participants in the presentation are those with the knowledge and expertise to answer the analysts’ questions immediately.”

He added, “Bringing non-participants or having too many speakers makes the presentation seem disjointed.”

Glendenning in an interview said his role in the meeting is to support the council chair and translate financial terminology if necessary. He declined to comment further.

Councilman David Yungmann, a Republican who represents the western portion of the county, in an interview expressed concern for Ball’s decision to not invite Glendenning on the trip.

“The best practice is that the legislative branch hears things first hand,” Yungmann said. “We are a separate branch of government and important discussions like this. We should be present at the table.”

Council Chairwoman Christiana Mercer Rigby will attend the mid-April trip.

Former Councilman Jon Weinstein, a Democrat who represented historic Ellicott City until he lost his primary race to Councilwoman Liz Walsh, echoed Yungmann’s concerns and added that someone who both understands finances and is tied to the legislative branch should be present at the meeting

“It’s a key part of transparency. The legislative branch should see what the executive branch is saying about our fiscal health,” Weinstein said.

“There is no good reason for the auditor not to be present. And even if the agencies or our economic consultant advised so.”

Yungmann suggested that Ball’s decision to not allow Glendenning to attend the meeting was “part of a pattern of the administration wanting to push the legislative branch aside and operate without us involved in areas where we have traditionally always been involved.”

Ball did not allow the council members to have representation on the Spending and Affordability Committee — spots that were allowed under former County Executive Allan Kittleman.

“They are developing a pattern of trying to operate in secret of the legislative branch,” Yungmann added.

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Rigby said in a statement, “Maintaining Howard County’s AAA bond rating is exceptionally important to the fiscal strength of our county.”

She continued, “I look forward to continuing to work through the logistics of the trip with the administration and having discussions on how Howard County can utilize best practices in our financial management.”

Democratic council members Walsh, Opel Jones and Deb Jung did not respond to requests for comment.

In Anne Arundel County, neither the county auditor nor a council member attends the rating meetings, according to Chris Trumbauer, a county spokesman.

In Baltimore County, an auditor did not attend the meeting this year though Councilman Tom Quirk attended, according to T.J. Smith, a spokesman for the county.

On the state level, Executive Director of Legislative Services Victoria L. Gruber attended the bond rating meeting alongside state officials. She was the only person who represented the legislative branch, according to Christian Lund, a spokesman for the State Treasurer's Office.

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