Don Mohler, top aide to the late Kevin Kamenetz, selected as new Baltimore County executive

Don Mohler, a former school teacher, principal and veteran of county government, was named Thursday as the next Baltimore County executive.

Mohler, 67, was appointed unanimously by the County Council to complete the remaining term of Kevin Kamenetz, who died two weeks ago after suffering cardiac arrest.

The vote came after two weeks of uncertainty about the county’s leadership following Kamenetz’s unexpected death.

Mohler — who had served as Kamenetz’s chief of staff — said he will do his best to carry on the late executive’s legacy. In a brief interview with reporters, he said the county has been reeling from the death of Kamenetz, followed by the death of county Police Officer Amy Caprio, who was killed while on duty in Perry Hall on Monday.

”It’s been a very difficult two weeks in Baltimore County,” Mohler said. “We’re going to be OK. We can do this together.”

Later in the afternoon, Mohler attended Caprio’s viewing at a Perry Hall funeral home.

Mohler, a Catonsville resident, needs to be sworn into office before he officially becomes Baltimore County’s 13th county executive. That ceremony had not been scheduled as of late Thursday.

He received a standing ovation from the audience in the council chambers in Towson when the 7-0 vote was taken. He had been sitting in one of the back rows, and stepped forward to briefly thank council members for placing their confidence in him.

Council members from both parties heaped praise on Mohler as they voted for him, although there appeared to be some discussion right up until the meeting — the session began 45 minutes late as members conferred behind closed doors.

Earlier in the week, council members heard from residents who urged them not to pick a current council member or political candidate as Kamenetz’s replacement. Several mentioned Mohler in particular as someone who could carry out Kamenetz’s vision without using the position for personal or political gain.

Mohler was one of Kamenetz’s top assistants, serving not only as chief of staff but often as the county’s chief spokesman.

“He’s a great adviser and friend and mentor to many,” said Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, who nominated Mohler. “He’s a problem-solver, he has a lot of bipartisan support.”

To underscore that point, Republican Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall seconded Quirk’s nomination. Marks praised Mohler’s administrative skills and experience in county government and schools.

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, said Mohler will provide stability the county needs at a difficult time.

“We need peace and we need quiet right now,” she said. “The county has been through an extraordinary hardship the last couple weeks and Mr. Mohler is what we need.”

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, directed her comments to Mohler, saying: “Baltimore County needs this time to heal and I think you can do that.”

Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, said Mohler is more focused on solving problems than in engaging in partisan politics.

Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, agreed, saying even though he and Mohler have had differences, Mohler set disagreements aside “to move things forward in the right way.”

Mohler called the support “very humbling.”

The position of county executive comes with an annual salary of $175,000. As chief of staff, Mohler made about $198,000 last year, according to a county employee salary database.

Before Mohler worked for Kamenetz, he was communications director for former County Executive Jim Smith for eight years. Smith said Mohler brings deep experience and a talent for communications to the role of county executive.

“He was my communications director but he was in on all of the executive decisions. He was one of the people I counted on for input,” said Smith, who now works as chief of strategic alliances for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

Smith said he talked with some council members’ aides about why Mohler would be the right choice.

“I thought that he would be a good compromise appointment and the county would not suffer any setback with his selection, because of his tremendous experience,” Smith said.

Before entering government, Mohler was an educator for 30 years, starting as a social studies teacher and later as a guidance counselor, principal and administrator. He obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees from what is now McDaniel College, a master’s in education from Loyola University Maryland and a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University.

Following Kamenetz’s death, Fred Homan, the county administrative officer, has been acting county executive. He will remain in that role until Mohler is sworn in.

The county’s charter authorized the council to appoint a replacement executive for the remainder of Kamenetz’s term, which runs through November. The individual had to be of the same party as Kamenetz — a Democrat — and meet age and residency requirements.

Council Chairman Julian Jones had said he wanted to appoint a current or former elected official to the position of county executive. But he said he appreciated the view of his colleagues who wanted Mohler. Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said Mohler is “decent, honorable and a person of high integrity.”

Many other names were floated for the position, including Almond, who is running for the seat in next month’s Democratic primary. She withdrew her name from consideration on Tuesday. Other names considered included former county executives Smith, Theodore Venetoulis and Don Hutchinson.

Mohler declined to answer questions about whether he was approached to put his name up for consideration.

Earlier in the meeting, council members approved a $3.3 billion budget that will guide the county government’s spending for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The budget — which remained largely the same as what Kamenetz had proposed — keeps the rates for property taxes and local income tax the same as they have been for more than 20 years.

Kach attempted to make a small cut to the property tax, frustrating Democrats who blocked the maneuver. Bevins accused Kach of “grandstanding.”

While tax rates will remain the same, Homan noted that the county will need to raise rates for water and sewer service by at least 12.5 percent.

The council also approved a zoning bill that will make it easier for recreational businesses such as trampoline parks and climbing gyms to open in commercial areas, as well as a resolution requesting that health plans for county employees dispense 12 months’ worth of birth control at a time.

pwood@baltsun.com

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