Howard County Executive Ken Ulman on Monday announced that he plans to loosen some of the restrictions in an executive order that banned sugary sodas and other high-calorie drinks at county-sponsored events.
The rule generated a passionate community debate earlier this month after some vendors complained about the standards, which were implemented for the first time at a Fourth of July event at downtown Columbia's Lake Kittamaqundi.
In a letter to the Howard County Council July 21, Ulman said he plans to remove food and drink restrictions on county-sponsored events that do not take place on county property.
"While we seek to increase healthy options in our community, we also want to be reasonable with our standards," Ulman wrote.
"While I believe it is appropriate to maintain best-practice standards on county property, I agree that once-a-year county-sponsored events that are not on county property might fall into a different category," the letter continues. "Therefore, I am informing you that, effective immediately, our standards will apply only to events, meetings and programs that take place on county-owned property."
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The exception would mean that vendors at next year's county-sponsored July Fourth celebration, which takes place on Columbia Association-owned land surrounding the lake, could sell full-sugar sodas and would not have any limitations on the amount of high-calorie packaged snacks they sell. The rules also wouldn't apply to the county's popular Wine in the Woods event, held in May in Columbia's Symphony Woods, which is owned by CA.
Ulman said he plans to create a committee, made up of officials from the Health Department, Department of Recreation and Parks, Department of Citizen Services and Office of Purchasing, to oversee the implementation of the food and drink policy going forward and provide assistance to vendors on diversifying their menu offerings.
The letter comes just as the council prepares to hear testimony on a bill introduced by Council member Greg Fox, a Republican who represents the western county, that would remove any limits on food or beverages sold or distributed on county-owned property or during county-sponsored events. A public hearing on the bill, and others up for a vote at the end of the month, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday night.
Fox has said he thinks the county should not be involved in what people choose to eat, on or off county property.
In his letter, Ulman called Fox's bill "a step in the wrong direction, restricting our ability to create the safest and healthiest community possible."
He said he wanted to build on other public-health initiatives, such as school wellness centers, healthy worksite programs and a ban on smoking in the county's parks, to "continue to move forward" in the realm of community health.
"I remain committed to Howard County being a leader in health and nutrition, and in our government taking into account our residents' health and safety when making decisions about the types of products we sell or offer on county property," Ulman wrote. "Serious health problems require action across a range of sectors and settings to be successful."