Two Howard County government offices are slated for reorganization under the administration of new County Executive Allan Kittleman.
Kittleman's press office announced Monday that the Office of Human Rights and the Office of Environmental Sustainability will be getting a makeover, with updated roles and responsibilities, in the next few months.
Both offices lost their directors – C. Vernon Gray in the Office of Human Rights and Joshua Feldmark in the Office of Environmental Sustainability – when former County Executive Ken Ulman left at the end of November.
Kittleman proposes to shift the responsibility of hearing formal human rights complaints to a "trained and experienced hearing examiner," according to the announcement Monday. Complaints have previously been heard by the county's Human Rights Commission.
Kittleman said the new role would free up the commission to focus on community advocacy and education.
"The diversity of our community is one of our greatest strengths and has helped us become a successful county," he said in a statement. "I value the contributions of the Human Rights Commissioners for what they do every day and am excited to help strengthen the commission's role in our community..."
Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, the chair of the Human Rights Commission, said in a statement that she was "enthusiastic" about the change, which she predicted would help the county "render more legally sustainable quasi-judicial decisions."
The county already employs a hearing examiner to adjudicate zoning cases. Howard press secretary Andy Barth said he didn't know yet who would take on the responsibility of human rights hearing examiner. He said Kittleman was working with the county's Office of Law to find "existing talent" who might be able to take on the job.
"I think the hope would be that it would be something one could absorb alongside existing duties," he said, when asked whether the responsibility would create a new, paid position.
The Office of Environmental Sustainability, meanwhile, will become the Office of Sustainability under Kittleman, who is proposing to expand the office's role to "assess the economic, agricultural and environmental impacts of all initiatives and programs across the county" and "advise the county executive on major sustainability challenges facing the county."
Kittleman said in a statement that the idea was to find the right "balance.
"Blending the economic, agricultural and environmental implications of measures affecting business growth and environmental management, among others, will enhance the county's long-term viability," he added.
Both Ned Tillman, chair of the county's Environmental Sustainability Board, and Jim Caldwell, acting director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, called the reorganization a positive step.
"Expanding the office's mission to incorporate all county initiatives is a logical next step to encompass all the major sectors of our community," Caldwell said in a statement. "I am confident that the same level of innovation and success realized with our existing programs can be extended to these new efforts."
Kittleman said in a statement that the reorganization "will strengthen two already successful programs.
"We owe it to our citizens to be proactive about the challenges that lie ahead and to maintaining our excellent quality of life," he said.
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Kittleman's office said there will be "little or no" fiscal impact from the changes, which are set to be submitted as a bill to the County Council in February.