Candidates for Baltimore County Executive make their case at Catonsville forum

The two candidates for Baltimore County Executive, Democrat John “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. and Republican Alfred “Al” Redmer Jr. squared off in front of about 100 people at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Monday night.

The candidates discussed topics from school construction to mitigating climate change.

Because the forum was sponsored by the UMBC Student Government Association, the Greater Arbutus Business Association and the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce, several questions dealt with topics specific to the southwestern part of Baltimore County.

Regional issues

Accountability in law enforcement

Baltimore County police and officials from UMBC are named in a lawsuit alleging misconduct as it relates to cases of sexual violence and sexual misconduct. When asked how they would create accountability and transparency in law enforcement, both candidates touted the importance of transparency.

Redmer said he would create a culture of accountability and transparency, and that when it came specifically to police officers, he is a “big fan” of body-worn cameras. He cited his experience in the private sector as an example of how he can communicate behavioral expectations through a large organization, like the county government.

Olszewski said he would create both a culture and a “training system” to make sure police officers and others in positions of authority understand “how serious” the issue of sexual misconduct is. He also said he would create an independent oversight process to look at issues of alleged misconduct.

Flooding

The candidates were asked how they would mitigate damage caused by extensive rainfall and flooding, without revenue from the stormwater remediation fee — or the so-called “rain tax.”

Olszewski said the candidates for county executive could not talk about the problems and needs facing the county and then talk about how they’re not affordable. He said the county will have to “absolutely have to find a way to pay for” infrastructure improvements to prevent flooding. He said the county needs a strategic plan for infrastructure needs and said he had a plan but was time-limited from touting any specifics.

Redmer said he would assign executive staff to specific communities around the county both for economic development and planning purposes, to make sure communities are not neglected when the county goes through planning processes.

Infrastructure

Asked to describe infrastructure projects that would specifically benefit Catonsville, Arbutus and UMBC, the candidates said the county needs to invest in those infrastructure projects.

Redmer said Baltimore County needs a “long-term” plan and that infrastructure work needs to be done in a way that is coordinated with “the revitalization of communities.”

Olszewski said he would explore creating a standalone Department of Transportation in Baltimore County to explore projects like making communities more walkable and bikeable, and options like regional circulators in the southwest region of the county.

School construction

Baltimore County has a list of capital projects that covers building new schools for Towson High, Dulaney High and Lansdowne High — and a myriad of additions and renovations. Plans currently under consideration to reduce crowding and improve facilities conditions in Baltimore County carry an estimated cost of between $590 million and $628 million.

The candidates were asked how they would afford the construction of new schools and other capital projects, and, specifically, whether they would support increasing taxes in order to afford projects.

Olszewski said turning to a tax increase should be the “last thing we turn to” in Baltimore County, to afford school construction or other capital projects. He also said he would leverage his relationships with state legislators to lobby for more money to be directed to Baltimore County from the state.

Redmer also mentioned leveraging state resources and said the county needs to “explore creative options to finance school construction.” Unlike previous debates, Redmer did not specifically mention the private financing of school construction.

Countywide topics

The candidates were also asked about the minimum wage, open space, immigration and economic development.

Olszewski said he would maintain the county police of not allowing law enforcement officers to inquire about immigration status while making an arrest without a judicial order; Redmer said he would change that policy “immediately” and allow officers to ask about immigration status and work with federal immigration authorities.

Both candidates said the county had a responsibility to mitigate damage from climate change and said working with nonprofits like NeighborSpace to preserve green and open space in the county would be important to them.

On raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Redmer said he would rather see businesses incentivized to raise wages rather than mandates. Olszewski said he would want to see the minimum wage raised at the state level, not the county level.

Both candidates said they support the proposed arts and entertainment district in the southwestern part of the county, and both said the county government could make use of institutions like UMBC and Towson University to encourage entrepreneurship and job growth in the region.

And, neither candidate indicated they thought the practice in Baltimore County of giving devices to every student, including at the elementary school level, was not prudent. Redmer said the program was too expensive, Olszewski said early grades do not need devices, and that he’d rather the county focus resources on school infrastructure needs.

This story will be updated.

More information about the candidates can be found in The Baltimore Sun’s Voter Guide.

Oct. 16 is the last day to register to vote in Maryland. Early voting in Maryland begins Thursday, Oct. 25 and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

cboteler@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codyboteler

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