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Executive may be the new Green Lantern

The Baltimore Sun

Call him the new Green Lantern.

The original was a comic book hero, a crime fighter extraordinaire battling evil with the aid of superhuman powers emanating from a mysterious green metal light.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman seems no less determined, though his is a different, perhaps even more ambitious agenda, and he is working hard at promoting it.

Ulman wants to make the county a national model of environmentally "green" practices, and he is performing his own feats to achieve it.

Recently, he climbed to the roof of Merriweather Post Pavilion to publicize the use of 24 new solar panels; he stood before a neatly parked posse of new hybrid county vehicles; and he pushed a complex package of green legislation through the County Council - perhaps the most ambitious feat of all.

Ulman cannot take credit for Merriweather's green conversion, which was suggested by the musician Jack Johnson, but he did his best to spread the word about it.

Brad Canfield, director of operations and production at the pavilion, said the new panels will provide more power than is needed during the winter, when the stage is unused, and enough power in summer to hook up several entertainment tour buses - keeping them from idling their diesel motors for hours to run their air conditioning and appliances.

Canfield said he has also installed 400 low-energy light bulbs and started a recycling program and a compost pile.

Richard Deutchmann, chief executive officer of Jessup-based Chesapeake Wind and Solar LLC, said his firm installed the Massachusetts-manufactured panels. They will produce 6,000 kilowatts of electricity a month, he said, which equals the energy produced by burning about 6,000 pounds of coal.

At the county's Dorsey building on Bendix Road, the seven new white Toyota Prius cars - the first of 32 new county hybrid vehicles - were artfully lined up Monday for another Ulman publicity effort.

The vehicles, bought for $22,000 each from Koons Toyota in Annapolis, are rated for 60 mpg city and 51 mph highway driving, using a combination of gasoline engine and electric battery power.

That's quite a bit better than the low teens per gallon achieved by the surplus county police cruisers that government inspectors now use, officials said.

Ulman likes the unusual shape of the Prius because it will make them stand out, which is part of his goal.

"Once we have 32, people will start to notice them," Ulman said, and that can help change the way residents think about their own role in energy conservation.

The council vote represented a different, more difficult effort - getting five independent-minded council members to review and vote on a package of three bills and two resolutions intended to change the way most buildings are constructed in the county.

Ulman, a Democrat, knew that all five council members professed support for the concept of his package and that Chairman Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa, both also Democrats, largely saw things his way.

But he needed three votes to prevail on the five-member council, which meant lots of discussions, e-mails, telephone calls and, ultimately, lots of amendments. In the end, Ulman and the council members crafted multiple compromises, and the final votes were unanimous.

"We really listened," the executive said after the vote, which Greg Fox, the council's lone Republican, said could also mean that Ulman did not have the votes for the measures as originally presented.

"He felt he didn't have three votes, or they realized they had problems with their bill," Fox said. Fox had wanted voting on the entire package postponed until September, but Ulman wanted to avoid that.

"I was concerned that efforts to table were efforts to delay in an effort to kill the legislation," Ulman said.

Fox denied that, saying, "I'm doing what's right for the county."

At the same time, Fox clearly enjoyed his ability to affect the council bills by detailed, research-driven questions that encouraged Mary Kay Sigaty and Courtney Watson, the council's other two Democrats, to take a second look at some aspects of Ulman's proposals.

"Working for [Constellation Energy] gives him insight into a lot of these issues," Ulman said.

In the end, everyone seemed satisfied that the public interest was served, and maybe that's what counts.

"I'm always pleased to see a unanimous vote," Ulman said. "I couldn't be more pleased."

Independents' day

Development was last year's hottest election topic in Howard County, but the subject has faded over the summer as plans to rebuild Columbia's downtown and the pending "Comp Lite" lawsuit await resolution.

It has not faded for Mona Brinegar, though.

Brinegar has been trying to organize independent county voters and said she was not discouraged by the 4.5 percent vote total achieved by independent county executive candidate Steve Wallis.

"We need more information. We need trust. We need to be able to trust our elected representatives and the people they appoint. We don't want party politics to take precedence," she said.

Brinegar is still working on her goal under the banner of her Howard County Independent Voters, which has published a second edition of the group's quarterly newspaper. The front page features two divergent views of what the federal Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) process means for development in Howard County.

Virtually all the inside pages are devoted to the voting records of County Council members, Planning Board members and state legislators.

"When I queried readers electronically to see what they were interested in, it was land use and development," Brinegar said.

To broaden her reports, she has met with Kevin Enright, the county public information director, to seek help in making the voting records of Planning Board and Zoning Board members easier to obtain.

"People lose interest because they have to fight so hard to get sensible data," Brinegar said. "I'm trying to generate a little more interest about local politics. I think it's absolutely critical."

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