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Baltimore County Council must resist self-dealing

Chairman Julian Jones talks about the criteria the council will take to replace the late Kevin Kamenetz as Baltimore County executive. (Pam Woods / Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore County residents should be thankful that their County Council has gone sane. Or perhaps it is just a case of temporary sanity. The council will soon – perhaps too soon – arrive at a decision about an interim replacement for late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Council Chairman Julian Jones had originally stated that there was no need to hold public hearings on the decision because this was one of those decisions that the council is elected to make. The council, of course, is elected to make a variety of decisions and routinely holds public hearings on these matters. Why should the selection of an acting county executive be any different?

Fortunately, Councilman Jones has had a change of heart. The council will hold hearings on Tuesday and invites public comment on the naming of an interim executive (“In reversal, Baltimore County Council will seek public input in replacing Kamenetz as county executive,” May 17). But the decision is still pregnant with peril. One member of the council, Vicki Almond, appears ready to participate in the decision even though she is a candidate for county executive herself. Should her colleagues choose her as the interim executive, she would be able to bolster her campaign with the authority and financial resources of the office and reward the colleagues who put her there. One hopes that she can anticipate the outrage likely to be ignited by such a maneuver.

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Other members of the council may also see political and financial profit in a tour as temporary county executive. The position might give them ammunition for their re-election campaigns. But election tainted by such self-dealing would leave behind fetid aroma likely to cast a pall over anyone winning office on these terms.

There is also a political technicality that may complicate the selection of a councilperson as county executive. The county charter requires that Mr. Kamenetz’s replacement be a member his political party – a Democrat. Any council Democrats up for the executive’s job would, one hopes, recuse themselves from helping to elect themselves. This would leave three Democrats and three Republicans voting – perhaps a formula for stalemate, or perhaps an alignment that would enable the council’s Republicans to determine the choice of a favored Democrat.

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There is a politically odorless and administratively efficient alternative to self-dealing and deadlock. County Administrator Fred Homan is already performing as executive. He or Chief of Staff Don Mohler could serve out the remaining months of Kevin Kamenetz’s tragically foreshortened term of office. Neither gentleman would require a period of on-the-job training. They both have long experience in the administration. Electing either of them to continue until the end of the year would seem to be a sane solution for the political puzzles now facing the county. One hopes that the council will choose this option or something like it. One hopes.

Matthew A. Crenson, Baltimore

The writer is a professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University. The opinions expressed are his and not those of the university.

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