As the Howard County Council's August recess winds down, council members still have a half-dozen pieces of legislation on the table to address when they reconvene in September.
Three of these are nominations, which have continued to be a sticking point between the Democrat-dominated council and Republican County Executive Allan Kittleman's administration.
Last month, the council voted down Susan Garber's controversial nomination to the Planning Board, which was tabled for several months. Garber called the decision "inevitable."
"Clearly, they were more concerned with retaining the Planning Board chair [Josh Tzuker]," she said. "It will be interesting to see if they vote down any more nominations."
Council members Jen Terrasa and Greg Fox voted to approve Garber's nomination at the council's last legislative session, in late July. Of the "no" votes, Councilman Jon Weinstein referenced earlier comments, where he said he had "focused on the importance of the board or commission they're serving on and how I think the nominee might work with their colleagues on that board or commission," as his reason for voting down her appointment.
Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty and Councilman Calvin Ball did not explain their "no" votes during the session.
Of the three nominations on tap for next month, one – Alan Whitworth to the Public Works board – was tabled because Whitworth was not available to speak about his qualifications at the council's most recent public hearing.
But the other two have proven more contentious among council members and some in the community.
Ivan Betancourt was nominated in June for the Human Rights Commission – the subject of several battles since earlier this year, when Kittleman proposed rethinking some of the group's responsibilities. The volunteer firefighter, accountant and Mt. Airy resident, who immigrated legally to the United States from Venezuela, has since been criticized for his views on illegal immigration.
Betancourt, who formerly served as president of the Howard County Republican Club, wrote a letter to the Howard County Times in April 2007 to applaud state Dels. Warren Miller and Gail Bates for their opposition to the DREAM Act, which allows non-resident students who attended and graduated from Maryland high schools to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. The legislation failed in 2007, but was later passed in 2011.
Betancourt wrote that undocumented immigrants "are a drain on our resources" and "they and the people that hire them should be held accountable and punished, not rewarded... I strongly support President Bush on most issues, but on immigration I not only think he is making a mistake, but I consider his support for 'amnesty' a direct insult on me and people like me that worked hard to become Americans by following the law."
Betancourt would be replacing Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, who was a vocal opponent of Kittleman's proposal to study a reorganization of the board, which might have included shifting the responsibility of hearing formal complaints to a hearing examiner with experience in civil rights law.
Democrats on the council have said they want to hear a rationale for replacing existing commission and board members who have reached the end of a term but are not yet term limited; Kittleman has declined, noting that no other Howard County executive has been asked to justify his or her appointments as thoroughly.
Kimberly Hartman's nomination to the Howard County Local Children's Board, meanwhile, was introduced in April and tabled in May. The council has not reconsidered her nomination since then; tabled resolutions, unlike bills, can be put on hold indefinitely.
Hartman worked as a food service manager for the Howard County Office on Aging from 2002 to 2004, volunteered in the community through Meals on Wheels and other programs and served on Kittleman's Transition Team for the Office on Aging.
Since 2010, she has served as executive director for the Columbia Pregnancy Center, a nonprofit that offers "a large range of services to those in crisis situations resulting from unplanned pregnancy and other areas," according to the organization's website. Services listed include ultrasounds, options information, material aid, after-abortion support, community referrals and parenting and pre-natal classes.
Hartman told council members at a public hearing in June that she wanted to help underserved kids. "I really hate to see good minds wasted, and that's why I think it's so important to focus on the children when they're young," she said.
Her nomination has since faced scrutiny online, where the anonymous author of a local blog called the Howard County Rudkus Report wrote that crisis pregnancy centers provide "dishonest information" to clients, citing ItsLies.org, a website that criticizes crisis pregnancy centers in the state based on investigative reports from the NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund and a 2006 report commissioned by former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
Sigaty said both Betancourt and Hartman's nominations were on hold until council members had a chance to meet with each candidate in person.
"I have had a couple of things that have turned up that I really want to talk to [potential] board members about," she said, though she declined to specify what those topics were. "I don't like to be the person who makes assumptions about people based on things that I've heard," she added.
Ball said he had reservations about Betancourt and Hartman's nominations.
"I have concerns with their previous or current statements and positions, particularly as it relates to their particular boards and commissions —Mr. Betancourt on issues of human rights and Ms. Hartman on issues of children and women," he said.
Hartman did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.
Betancourt said he felt "kind of caught in the tug-of-war of political correctness."
As a member of Gov. Bob Ehrlich's Commission on Hispanic Affairs from 2003 to 2007, he said, he helped organize seminars to teach Spanish speakers about fire safety.
Though he's outspoken on immigration issues – "I'm an immigrant, I follow the law; others should do the same" – he says his views don't override the value he places on humane treatment for others.
"When I'm a firefighter and I'm wearing my firefighter's hat I don't say, 'Excuse me, what's your nationality and are you legal?'" he said.
Kittleman Communications Director Deidre McCabe said she was "not aware" of any political or philosophical reasons the council might have for delaying Betancourt and Hartman's nominations. "At this point I don't think anybody expects anything unusual to happen; I think it's just a procedural thing," she said.
"We're just hoping there will be a vote on Sept. 8," when the council returns, she added.