For Ulman and Craig, a different end of term than expected

Baltimore Sun Media Group
For county executives Ulman and Craig, a different end of term than envisioned.

Newly elected officials are taking oaths of office Monday in several local jurisdictions, but in Howard and Harford counties, ceremonies signal the end of eras for two officials who started 2014 with their sights on Annapolis.

Eight years ago, Ken Ulman, at 32, was the youngest person in Maryland elected a county executive.

As he prepares to step down from Howard County's top post at age 40, he's got a whole life ahead of him. Still, it won't be the life he envisioned a year ago, when he was a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor with gubernatorial hopeful Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.

Likewise, Harford County Executive David Craig, 65, entered 2014 vying to become the Republican nominee for governor. Then came Larry Hogan, who bested Craig in the primary en route to his surprise win over Brown in November.

The two are the most experienced executives leaving office this week. In Anne Arundel, County Executive Laura Neuman is also exiting, but her tenure has been relatively short — she was appointed 21 months ago after the resignation of then-executive John R. Leopold. Neuman lost to Steve Schuh in the GOP primary, but won high praise for guiding the county through tumultuous times.

In Baltimore County, Kevin Kamenetz is entering his second term as executive.

In Harford and Howard, neither Craig nor Ulman is likely to be remembered as a man who lost a race for higher office. Both are leaving a stamp on their home turf.

Ulman, an attorney who served on the County Council before becoming executive, has been in office during a growth spurt. In eight years, Howard's population has grown by more than 30,000.

While in office, Ulman emphasized schools, libraries, parks and plans for Columbia's redevelopment. He didn't raise property taxes, but did raise or introduce fees including a hike in the fire tax and implementation of the state-mandated stormwater management fee, derided by many as the rain tax.

Ulman's tenure has also been marked by policy ideas. He created Healthy Howard to provide health care services for uninsured residents, banned minors from using indoor tanning beds, created an office of environmental sustainability, purchased a fleet of hybrid and electric vehicles and launched Roving Radish, a food truck that drops off meal kits to residents in need.

Critics view some policy decisions as heavy-handed. Most notably, Ulman took heat for his ban on the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks on county property and at county-sponsored events; his successor, Republican Allan Kittleman, has vowed to overturn the ban among his first acts.

Greg Fox, a Republican on the County Council, said he's spent eight years "fending off ... initiatives such as the potential use of eminent domain, the implementation of the sugary drink ban and the levying of the rain tax."

But whether they agree with Ulman's policies or not, many say the executive has made a difference.

"He's remade the county executive position in its entirety," said Tom Coale, a local political and civic blogger. "He's made it much more of a policy-rich position … he took it on as a CEO job."

In Harford, Craig's tenure has been the longest of any current executive in the region; he served 91/2 years after completing a partial term from James Harkins, who resigned to become director of Maryland Environmental Service. Craig had been a teacher and assistant principal and served two stints as Havre de Grace's mayor, a term in the House of Delegates and a term in State Senate.

His time as executive has been marked by capital projects — government buildings, recreation facilities, a water treatment system in Abingdon, a new sheriff's office building and numerous school projects. Last month, Craig pressed for the purchase of waterfront parkland in Havre de Grace, and a few weeks ago, the county dedicated a new, $50 million Department of Emergency Services headquarters and 911 Center north of Bel Air.

Critics say taxpayers will pay for those projects long after he leaves office. An audit of the county's 2014 fiscal year indicates Harford owes $615 million in principal and interest on bonds sold to build school and other buildings and $176 million on money borrowed for water and sewer projects. When Craig took office, the county owed $201 million and $83 million, respectively.

But Craig defends the emphasis, saying in a statement: "One main function of county government is infrastructure and making sure buildings are efficiently upgraded to be safe."

His time in office saw some rocky relations with the school system on budget matters, but Craig touts Harford's Triple A bond rating, reflecting what he calls sound fiscal management.

Craig's successor, Barry Glassman, has promised to focus less on buildings and more on other issues. Glassman's transition team said at his inauguration that the new executive will talk about "steps to improve service to citizens, repeal the rain tax and right-size local government."

When he lost his gubernatorial bid to Hogan, Craig was philosophical, saying, "It would be nice to be retired."

That will have to wait. Last week, he was tapped to serve on Hogan's transition advisory board.

The immediate future is less known, at least publicly, for Ulman, though he says he plans to remain engaged.

"I'm 40 years old, I'm as excited and optimistic as I've ever been about the future of Howard County and, frankly, the future of the state of Maryland," he said. "I've got a lot more to give, and whether that's in the private sector or the public sector … I'm going to be involved in continuing to push for innovative solutions to our challenges.

"Stay tuned to exactly how that comes together."

Oaths of Office

Anne Arundel County: Monday, Dec. 1 , 3 p.m., County Executive-elect Steve Schuh and the County Council will be sworn in at a ceremony at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.

Baltimore County: Monday, Dec. 1, 10 a.m., County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and members of the County Council will be sworn in at SECU Arena at Towson University.

Carroll County: Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2 p.m., members the Board of County Commissioners will take the oath of office in Westminster.

Harford County: Monday, Dec. 1, noon, County Executive-elect Barry Glassman and County Council will be sworn in at the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College, Bel Air.

Howard County: Monday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m., County Executive-elect Allan Kittleman and the County Council will be sworn in at a ceremony at Glenelg High School. The ceremony is by invitation only, but will be live-streamed at https://new.livestream.com/hcpsstv/events/3593385.

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