Council Members Claim Kamenetz Retaliation Over Pension Vote
Four Baltimore County Council members accused County Executive Kevin Kamenetz of cutting off their access to department heads and of intentionally delaying projects in their districts.
Four members of the Baltimore County Council say County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is retaliating against them by delaying projects in their districts after they voted to table the administration's pension bill last month.
Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, Councilman Ken Oliver and Councilman Tom Quirk—all Democrats—and Councilman David Marks, a Republican, said their access to county department heads to address constituent concerns has been greatly diminished since the day after they voted March 19 to table the bill.
All said they believe the executive is further penalizing them by withholding money for projects in each of their districts while providing funds to council districts whose members voted to pass the pension bill. Oliver said he was offered funds for a sidewalk project if he switched his vote.
Kamenetz's spokesman Don Mohler said the Democratic county executive has not retaliated against any council members and that funding decisions for projects have to be examined over the course of an entire year.
Mohler downplayed concerns about fraying relationships between Kamenetz and the council, comparing them to family disagreements.
"No one agrees or gets along with their spouse or child all the time," said Mohler. "There are ups and downs. There are always going to be bumps in the road and in Baltimore County we work through these things."
Almond said she believes the limited access to Kamenetz's department heads and funding questions display disrespect for the council's job and damage the relationship between the two branches of government.
"We can work together but we need to build a relationship built on mutual respect," said Almond. "It can't be a relationship built on fear and intimidation. We can disagree, we can pound the table, but in the end we have to have respect. We're all elected officials. It's not that hard."
Council members Cathy Bevins and John Olszewski Sr., Democrats who represent Essex-Middle River and Dundalk, respectively, and Councilman Todd Huff, a Timonium Republican, supported the pension bill. Two days after the vote, Mohler, who is also Kamenetz's chief of staff, told them that their districts would receive more than $3 million each for road resurfacing projects, according to an email obtained by Patch.
Mohler confirmed the email, but cautioned against inferring too much from it or the timing.
The fact that a majority of the council, most of whom are from Kamenetz's own party, are publicly accusing the county executive of retaliation highlights a growing division between the two branches of government.
At issue is a vote on a bill requested by Kamenetz and County Administrative Officer Fred Homan that calls for eliminating the ability of some county employees to have their overtime counted toward their final pension benefits.
Homan and County Budget Director Keith Dorsey told the council the bill would have saved the county $400,000 annually.
The majority of the council said they were concerned about passing such a law at the same time the county was negotiating with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the affected county workers. Those same council members expressed concern that Homan and Dorsey could not answer questions about the bill.
Almond said the council's freshmen believe they were elected not to be "rubber stamps" but that their job is to be a check-and-balance to the executive.
"Should we not ask questions? Should we not be inquisitive?" asked Almond. "We're not going to always agree and we don't think our districts should be punished for that as a result.
"We want to work together, but we're not going to be worked over," she said. "We don't want to be rebels and against everything but we want to be informed."
Almond said concerns about retaliation by Kamenetz have eroded the relationship with the county executive.
"The trust is gone," Almond said.
Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said the ramifications for voting to table the pension bill began almost immediately when he stopped getting return calls from department heads contacted about constituent issues.
"We're in a position of having to tell people we can't help them because (department heads) won't talk to us," said Marks.
Almond, Oliver and Quirk said they all have had similar experiences.
Quirk said calls to a number of department heads over the last two weeks have gone unreturned.
"I'm confident they'll be returned—eventually," said Quirk, adding that such actions "are a disservice to the taxpayers."
"Is it retaliation?" said Oliver. "Now what do you think? Of course it is."
All four said they had heard rumors of projects in their districts requiring additional approvals before they can move forward.
Almond, Oliver, Quirk and Marks all said they were not aware of additional money being made available to colleagues who supported the pension bill until contacted by Patch.
Oliver said he was offered money for a project to add sidewalks to a stretch of Windsor Mill Road in return for switching his vote on the bill.
Mohler declined to address Oliver's statement, saying only that he would not "discuss private conversations with individual council members."
"Disappointed by the vote."
Mohler said Kamenetz is not engaging in a pattern of penalizing council members for their votes.
"We were disappointed," said Mohler. "We thought that it was an important vote, but it's not something we're going to harbor and no citizen or area will bear the brunt of that."
Mohler did acknowledge writing an email to Bevins, Huff and Olszewski that announced the executive was releasing an additional $3 million for each district for road projects.
In an email obtained by Patch, Mohler writes to an unidentified council member that the money can be used for a number of projects in the respective districts and asks the council members for their priorities.
Kamenetz earmarked $25 million for road repaving projects in the current budget year. The $10 million redistributed to Bevins, Huff and Olszewski for this budget year represent 40 percent of the total that was available.
Mohler declined to address the timing of the email.
"I'll let others speculate about the timing," said Mohler. "There were some funds released. We do projects all over the county. Money comes in at different times of the year."
Mohler cautioned against interpreting the additional road money for districts represented by Bevins, Huff and Olszewski as a reward.
"You have to look at the entire county over the entire year," said Mohler. "I assure you that no district is being penalized."
Mohler said a review of projects completed by the county in the current year would back that up. Such a list was not immediately available, he said.
In the end, Mohler said, Kamenetz and the council would continue to work together.
"One of the things that people in Baltimore County will not tolerate is the kind of petty politics that we see in Washington," said Mohler. "We've never had that before in Baltimore County and we won't have that now."