Democrat Frank “Bud” Hines and Republican Patrick Vincenti are the choices to become the next president of the Harford County Council in the Nov. 6 general election.
The council leadership position, which is chosen by countywide voting, is open with the retirement of Richard Slutzky, who led the council the past four years after serving 12 years as a district councilman from Aberdeen.
Vincenti, a Churchville resident, has been the District E representative for the past four years, winning election to the seat formerly held by Slutzky in 2014. Hines, a Fallston resident, is a community activist and semi-retired business and technology executive.
Both men made their cases to the public during a recent candidates’ forum at Harford Community College, sponsored by the Harford County chapters of the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women. About 90 people attended the Oct. 15 forum.
The candidates talked about their backgrounds and answered questions submitted on note cards from members of the audience.
Vincenti said he grew up in Havre de Grace and that he and his wife, Jeannie, are graduates of Havre de Grace High School. They own and operate the Vincenti Decoys store in Havre de Grace.
Many of their family members have attended Harford County Public Schools, and three of their grandsons are HCPS students, Vincenti said.
Vincenti said he serves with several nonprofit organizations — he is president of the board for the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, plus he is a member of the Rotary Club of Aberdeen and the Society of Italian American Businessmen, according to his campaign website.
He said he believes being a small business owner and his community involvement “give me some great insight to key components which help to make Harford County a great place to live, work and raise a family.”
Those components include a strong economy, jobs, “the best schools,” public safety and health care, he said.
“As a member of the council I continue to maintain a good working relationship with my colleagues, our municipalities, our businesses and stakeholders throughout the district and across the county,” he said.
Vincenti said he continues to support smart growth and in-fill development in areas with the infrastructure to support it, especially in the Route 40 corridor.
“Reinvesting in the [Route] 40 corridor area would be extremely beneficial to the health and well being of the entire county, in my opinion,” he said.
He said the county must also continue to maintain “our rural communities, our ag heritage and our open green spaces.”
Frank “Bud” Hines
Hines introduced himself by talking about the lawsuits he, his wife, Donna, and neighbors pursued against Jones Junction, BGE and Harford County in 2011 after Jones developed its Subaru dealership on the former Hinder Lincoln-Mercury site behind their house on Terry Way and north of the intersection of Route 1 and the Bel Air Bypass at Benson.
Hines said Jones expanded the facility “by a factor of three” and “without a single permit.” Jones also removed trees that formed a buffer between his house and the dealership and “erected obscene stadium lighting,” according to his campaign website.
He said he got no support from the County Council or county government, then led by County Executive David Craig, so “what we had to do was galvanize our neighborhood” and pursue legal action.
The lawsuit went on for two years, and Jones did remove the high-intensity lights and institute other “best practices,” but “we still have more lighting than we need or deserve.” The Hines and their fellow plaintiffs won in Harford County Circuit Court.
“My stance is, no one in Harford County should have to dig into their pocket to fight for their zoning rights,” Hines said.
Donna Hines is also running for office this year, as the Democratic nominee in the District 7 race for state Senate.
Frank Hines said the council “continues to make bad decisions,” such as taking a long time to ultimately turn down a proposed pyrolysis plant in Joppa. The council, sitting as the Board of Appeals, voted unanimously in early October to uphold a zoning hearing examiner’s ruling that the plant, which uses high heat to break down and recycle scrap tires, did not meet zoning regulations.
The council’s vote happened after a months-long process involving arguments being presented to the hearing examiner, Robert Kahoe, in the spring, Kahoe issuing his ruling in the summer and then the appeals board hearing arguments from both sides in September.
He also cited the county’s appeal of a $45 million judgement levied against it after a two-week jury trial in Harford County Circuit Court in April. The jury found in favor of the developer who has been blocked by the county since 1990 from constructing a rubblefill in the Gravel Hill community near Havre de Grace. The council has supported the appeal, approving a request in May for the county government to hire outside counsel.
Hines also brought up the federal lawsuit against the county filed by the builder of houses in Joppatowne meant to constitute a “mini-peace village” for members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community after the county stopped issuing building permits partway through the building of the controversial development. A federal district judge issued a preliminary injunction in June, ordering the county to provide water and sewer hookups and issue occupancy permits for residents of houses that have been constructed.
The County Council did not have a role in the initial approvals of the development or the freeze in permits, which are the responsibility of the county’s executive branch.
“We need change, we can’t keep on rubber stamping,” Hines said.
Questions and corrections
Both candidates answered questions about zoning policy and development, stormwater management and flood control, rising housing costs, public school funding, how to boost enrollment and improve morale for students and employees at HCC and what one thing they would change about the role of council president.
Hines was corrected on three points — he said the council approved “nine zoning changes, one after another,” at a recent council meeting.
Vincenti corrected him, saying the council had approved four to five zoning changes. The council approved four bills during its Oct. 9 legislative session related to zoning code changes. When the bills were up for public hearings, critics derided them as giveaways to developers. Vincenti voted for all of them as did all but one or two of the other six council members.
Hines said in a follow-up interview Tuesday that he and his wife could not attend the public hearings, but he took issue with how the council members voted on the zoning bills and other pieces of legislation “in rapid succession” the following week.
He said the council should allow more time for discussion and debate on legislation and seek out public feedback.
“It appears that they just sit on [legislation], wait on it until the next week and come back and vote on it,” Hines said.
Hines also drew a correction from Harford County Executive Glassman on school funding when Hines said the county spends 36 percent of its budget on education while other Maryland counties spend 50 percent of their budgets on education. Glassman also participated in the Oct. 15 forum as a candidate for re-election.
“What I keep hearing, over and over and over, is that we spend far less on education in Harford County, and I think we should spend more,” Hines said.
Glassman said the county spends 49.3 percent of the general fund budget on education, including debt service on capital projects.
Hines is correct in that 36 percent of the county’s total operating budget for fiscal 2019 is allocated for education — $262.6 million total including $245.8 million to HCPS and $16.8 million to Harford Community College, according to county budget documents.
The operating budget covers the general fund and multiple other enterprise funds, such as the water and sewer fund, the parks and recreation special revenue fund and state and county agricultural preservation programs.
Funding for school operations, all contained within the general fund, makes up 46 percent of the $571.6 million general fund, according to documents.
Hines partially conceded the point Tuesday, but still questioned how Glassman got to 49.3 percent. He said he has heard from many teachers who appreciate receiving a pay increase this year, but must also deal with a loss of support personnel, plus they are concerned about getting a pay increase next year.
Hines also cited recent announcements by new HCPS Superintendent Sean Bulson about possible hiring and spending freezes.
“We still are mired in issues with the education budget, and it’s obvious that we need to do something different,” Hines said.
Hines drew another correction from Glassman when he said the Maryland Department of the Environment has decided not to monitor Harford County’s compliance with stormwater regulations any longer since the county “has done such a good job.”
“At the same time they’ve taken a step back [at the state level], we have an opportunity to not do the right thing, which I think has been the case,” Hines said.
Glassman said that was not true, and the state conducts monthly reviews of the county’s inspections of stormwater management projects and monitors activities such as how the county responds to constituent complaints.
Vincenti echoed Glassman’s earlier comments about Harford’s successful compliance with stormwater regulations.
“I think we’re doing an excellent job,” Vincenti said.
On what he would change about the council president’s role, Hines said the president should “make alternative suggestions” when legislation is sent by the county administration for council approval.
“It appears to me, and it appears to many of the people that watch the County Council, that everything is a pass through,” he said.
Vincenti said, if elected, he would give citizens some more opportunities to speak to the council. He said: “...that’s what some people feel, is that we’re not being transparent enough.”
As council president, Slutzky received some criticism for trying to limit people’s ability to speak at council meetings – the council does not allow public comment on legislation the night it is enacted and its rules limit speakers to three minutes, five minutes if representing an organization.
Slutzky had relaxed the latter rule for most of the council’s first three years, but began enforcing it at the end of 2017, with backing from the rest of the council including Vincenti, after he and other council members said they heard concerns about speakers going for up to 25 minutes from citizens in the audience and those watching meetings online or on television.
“I think that there is a time and a place for that and if I have the opportunity I would like to bring some of that forward,” Vincenti said of the council’s citizen input issues.