Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. intensified his efforts this week to pressure the County Council into confirming Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos for a seat on the county's Revenue Authority board by publicly questioning the council chairman's refusal to schedule a hearing - a move that seems only to have entrenched both sides.
After business hours on Monday, Smith faxed a letter to County Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz's office and shortly thereafter to the news media suggesting that Kamenetz is violating the spirit of the county's charter by refusing to schedule a hearing and vote on Angelos.
"In the spirit of democratic checks and balances, the purpose of this process is to ensure that the county executive appoints highly qualified individuals. There should [be] no doubt in anyone's mind that Mr. Angelos is a highly qualified nominee," Smith wrote, adding that Kamenetz has publicly agreed on Angelos' qualifications.
Rather than breaking the stalemate over the nomination, which Smith made last month, the letter appears to have intensified the conflict that has been simmering between the executive and a majority of the council's members since the executive was inaugurated in December.
Kamenetz, who first heard about the letter from a reporter, said he couldn't believe that Smith would think sending such a letter to the news media was the proper way to communicate with the council.
"I've never seen an executive assume such a needlessly adversarial relationship with the council over a relatively insignificant matter," Kamenetz said. "It's clearly his effort to create a power play with the council for no reason whatsoever."
Neither Kamenetz nor any other member of the council has questioned whether Angelos is qualified to serve on the board, which manages the county's parking garages and golf courses, a $14 million-a-year operation.
However, five of the seven council members have said they cannot commit to confirming him because they believe the council should be allowed to nominate one member of the board, as was the practice under Smith's predecessor, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
Kamenetz said he would put Angelos' name on the agenda when four council members ask him to do so. That hasn't happened yet, he said.
Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said Smith's insistence on putting Angelos' name on the agenda serves no purpose at this point.
"I really find it very disheartening as a citizen and an elected official that somebody would attempt to hurt, and that's the only word I can use, hurt the name of Mr. Angelos and embarrass either the council or Mr. Angelos," Moxley said. "It's obvious to anyone with political knowledge ... that the nomination was not going to be moved forward at this time."
However, two councilmen - Democrats Kenneth N. Oliver of Randallstown and Vincent J. Gardina, who represents Perry Hall and Towson - said they support the Angelos nomination, have no problem with Smith's letter and believe Kamenetz should schedule a hearing.
"You can make a decision whether to confirm or not, but just to not bring somebody up for confirmation, that's shenanigans," Gardina said.
Smith said last week that he agreed that giving the council one appointment on the board "is in the best interests of Baltimore County," but that he would ask the General Assembly, which makes the laws that govern the Revenue Authority, to make the change only if the council approves Angelos first.
Kamenetz responded then that he and other council members could not count on the executive's promise until the legislature passes a bill and it is signed by the governor, a process that would take until next summer.
"This was the chairman's response to the administration meeting the council's only stated demand?" said Smith spokesman Damian O'Doherty. "What else can we do to move forward?"
Kamenetz said he met with Smith a few weeks ago and agreed on a basic framework for how to resolve the issue. He said he is still seeking to secure a consensus on the council to support the compromise, which he declined to describe.
"Notwithstanding his poor method of communication, I recognize an obligation to do what is in the best interest of Baltimore County citizens, so I am going to see to it this is amicably resolved," Kamenetz said. "And I'm going to do it without issuing a press release."
O'Doherty said that given Kamenetz's comments about delaying the nomination until the governor signs a bill giving the council appointment authority, the chairman has no room to complain about the administration making its frustration public.
"The priority on their lists was making sure the council could save face by giving them some kind of appointment authority, and we sent a letter to the legislative delegation asking them to do it," O'Doherty said. "He says, 'How about July 1, 2004?' To respond in kind is certainly no big stretch."