Baltimore County Council extends traffic camera program, hires lawyers for lawsuit, says farewells

At the final meeting of their term on Monday night, Baltimore County Council members voted to extend the county’s traffic camera program, to hire lawyers to defend zoning lawsuits brought by religious groups and to accelerate construction projects.

They also bid farewell to the one council member who is leaving office: Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for county executive this year.

Almond served two terms on the council representing the northwestern part of the county. She got into politics after a long run as a community and schools activist.

“Your district is better now than eight years ago because of all of the things that you’ve done,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat who became close friends with Almond

Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, said her tenure has been the “most amazing” years of her life.

“I have met so many incredible people, had so many incredible experiences and found out so much about myself,” she said. “It’s been eye-opening and I treasure every moment of it.”

Almond will be replaced by Izzy Patoka, a Pikesville Democrat who easily won election to the open seat.

It also was the last meeting for Fred Homan, the longtime county administrative officer who is being pushed into retirement by county Executive-elect Johnny Olszewski Jr.

Homan often has been a controversial figure in county government, and while council members didn’t always agree with him, they respected his deep knowledge about government operations and finances. Homan ran the government’s day-to-day business and supervised all of the department directors and briefly served as acting county executive following the death of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in May.

After being presented with a citation, Homan spoke briefly to warn council members that they face difficult financial situations ahead. The county is running close to its limits for how much money it can borrow.

“What you face now going forward is going to make a very significant difference in not only the fiscal situation of the county, but the lives of citizens of the county,” Homan said. “I wish you the best.”

Council members also passed a resolution naming their library for Thomas Peddicord Jr., the council’s longtime lawyer and legal secretary, who is retiring at the end of the month.

Since 1981, Peddicord has worked with 32 council members, who often sought his advice and expertise on matters before the council.

“What an amazing history of service you provided to Baltimore County,” said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican who said he might appoint Peddicord to a county government board to fill some of his retirement hours.

Joanne Williams, who is retiring as director of the Department of Aging, also was recognized for her 36 years of service to the county.

Council members plowed through about two dozen actions, mostly financial matters, wrapping up the county’s business before Olszewski and the new council take over. Their decisions Monday included:

» Approving a contract with American Traffic Solutions to take over the county’s red light and speed camera programs. The contract could be worth more than $21 million over 11 years if all of the renewals are exercised.

» Hiring the private Baker Donelson law firm to represent the county in a federal lawsuit that alleges county police, prosecutors and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County mishandled reports of rape and sexual assault involving students. The contract is worth up to $600,000 over six years.

» Accelerating more than $170 million worth of planned construction projects to be financed by bonds that were authorized by voters in the November election. They include upgrades at the Eastern Sanitary Landfill, highway resurfacing projects and several school renovations and construction projects.

» Transferring more than $560,000 between parts of the budget in order to staff the county’s mobile crisis teams around the clock.

» Passing through a $20 million federal grant to Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point to help pay for upgrades to the property’s port facilities.

Olszewski, a Democrat, and the next set of council members will be sworn into office on Dec. 3, and the council will hold its first meeting that afternoon. The council will have four Democrats and three Republicans.

pwood@baltsun.com

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