Harford council members bid farewell at final meeting before election

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The Harford County Council, with its current membership, held its final legislative session Tuesday night.

The council is not meeting during November before or after election day Nov. 6 or before the Dec. 4 swearing in of a new council.

The next council of the next four years will have at least three new members. Councilmen Mike Perrone and Jim McMahan unsuccessully ran for other offices and Council President Richard Slutzky is retiring after a record tying 16 years on the council, the last four as its president.

Among the remaining four members, Councilmen Joe Woods, Chad Shrodes and Curtis Buelah are seeking re-election to their current seats, and Councilman Patrick Vincenti is running for council president to succeed Slutzky.

The outgoing council was all male and all-Republican, the first with such a make-up since the body was established by the county’s home rule charter in 1972.

Despite the Republican Party’s ascendance in the county the past 25 years, this was only the second council to have all seven members of the GOP, the other serving from 1998 to 2002, and the first without a woman member since the second council which served from 1974 to 1978.

Each member, except for Slutzky, who gave his farewell address at the Oct. 10 legislative session, made parting remarks Tuesday. Most of the remaining six members gave heartfelt tributes to their colleagues, the county government, the community, their legislative aides, and especially their families, for their support over the years.

Some of his colleagues expressed support for Vincenti in his race and expectations he will be a good leader for the council in its next term, while Vincenti’s opponent, Democrat Frank “Bud” Hines.

Perrone, however, spent much of his time critiquing the council and county government.

Perrone’s parting shots

Perrone, who was elected to his first term in 2014, decided to not seek re-election to focus on his personal and professional life. He made a last-minute entry as candidate in the Republican primary for county executive, but he was handily defeated by incumbent County Executive Barry Glassman, the current GOP nominee.

The District A representative did praise community organizations and houses of worship for their recent accomplishments and successful community events, but he spent the bulk of his time criticizing the Glassman administration and council for what he described as heavy support for Harford’s agricultural community at the expense of other sectors of the local economy and areas he represents in Edgewood and Joppa.

He has been a regular critic of the county’s program to preserve agricultural land by purchasing all development rights and requiring that the land be used for only agricultural purposes, arguing that the money would be better suited for school safety improvements, employee salary increases and supporting the fire and EMS system.

He stressed that any idea that he is biased against farmers could not be “farther from the truth.”

“I do resent the fact that the communities that I represent have been nearly devoid of any significant capital investment for years, while the agricultural community receives all kinds of attention and investments, and in the form of ag pres payments, handouts,” Perrone said.

Perrone said that when he joined the four years ago, he was excited to be part of a body “that could have represented a turning point in Harford County,” since none of the members is a farmer and four out of seven members either live around or represent a district that includes the Route 40 corridor, “but it didn’t work out that way.”

“To those members of the next council who decide to stand up to the political elite and fight for a transparent and impartial system that plays no favorites, I thank you in advance for your efforts and I appreciate you, and I look forward to the day when Harford County can completely rise above the Hazzard County label,” he said.

Citizen thanks

A handful of residents, including some who have been frequent critics of the council and county government policies, expressed their good wishes and thanks to council members for their service during the citizen comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.

“For you who are leaving I wish you contentment in your future,” Bel Air resident John Mallamo said. “For you who are returning, I’ll be back in December to address other comments.”

Mallamo has been a frequent critic of council decisions he feels favor developers, but he drew a formal warning from Slutzky in February 2017 for using “"insulting and inflammatory language," after Mallamo used a racial slur during remarks he made praising the legacy of civil right leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in honor of Black History Month.

Bill Wehland, of Bel Air South, who has also been a strong critic of council policy regarding zoning and land use and a vocal opponent of large projects such as a now-defunct plan to build a Walmart at Plumtree Road and Route 924, recognized council members for their hard work, dedication, responsiveness to citizen questions and “open-door policies.”

“Yes, there have been many issues and matters for which we’ve had to agree to disagree on,” Wehland said. “The reality is in this great country that everybody’s opinion counts and we’re free to express those opinions.”

He wished McMahan, Perrone and Slutzky luck in their future endeavors and told Woods, Shrodes, Vincenti and Beulah he hopes to see them at the next council meeting Dec. 4.

Wehland also thanked Cindy Mumby, director of governmental and community relations for the county government, for her support as he seeks information from the county administration.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ richly bless each and all of you and give you peace and comfort,” he told council members.

Hines, a Fallston resident, became emotional as he praised Perrone for being willing to stand by his principles, even when it meant going against the rest of the council. He praised Perrone for raising questions and “standing up for all the citizens of Harford County” on matters such as changes to zoning regulations or spending on capital projects.

“I believe that Mike has set a new standard for County Council members,” Hines said. “I would like to recognize him for standing up for all of Harford County. He is a real example of a true profile in courage.”

While Hines is the Democratic nominee in the race for council president, his wife, Donna, is the Democratic nominee in the race to represent Legislative District 7 in the Maryland Senate, running against incumbent Republican Sen. J.B. Jennings.

Robert Brown, chair of the Harford County Commission on Veterans Affairs, praised McMahan, an Army veteran and council liaison to the commission, for McMahan’s leadership in establishing the commission at the request of the county executive.

“Through Capt’n Jim’s [McMahn’s] guidance and counsel, the commission has been faithfully able to serve the veterans throughout Harford County,” Brown said. McMahan has served 12 years and was a Bel Air town commissioner prior to joining the council.

Brown also praised McMahan for his continued support of the commission, serving veterans and their families. He also recognized Debbie Button, McMahan’s legislative aide, for handling calls for assistance and facilitating and enhancing the commission’s work.

“Your selfless service, support and loyalty to see the mission through to completion will never be forgotten,” Brown told McMahan. “Harford County veterans are better supported and served today because of you.”

The final comments came from Council Administrator Mylia Dixon. She gave a Harford County Council challenge coin to each council member. Dixon also gave a coin meant for Glassman to his director of administration, Billy Boniface, who previously served as council president from 2006 to 2014.

She expressed thanks to the council “on behalf of the Harford County government, citizens and staff for all your service and work that you have put into these last four years.”

“It’s a lot that goes into it, so thank you very much for your work,” Dixon said.

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