Protesters demand transparency in Baltimore County government | WYPR

Protesters demand transparency in Baltimore County government

Apr 3, 2018

Protesters at site where county cut down trees one year ago.
Credit John Lee

There were calls last night to change the way Baltimore County government conducts itself. 

 

On the same night the county council considered changes to the county charter, protesters demanded an audit, as well as more access to lawmakers and transparency.

 

 

 

Dozens of protesters stood on the corner of Bosley Avenue and York Road in Towson Monday. It had been a year since Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s administration cut down 30 trees on county property there to help speed along the sale of the land to a developer, even though the trees had been protected by the county council. Protesters like Ron Gallop are calling for an internal audit to see if any laws were broken.

 

“We believed the county expedited the removal of the protected trees without permits, improperly using funds earmarked for other purposes,” Gallop told the crowd.

 

The cutting down of the trees has become a symbol for those who believe development is running amok and developers are running the show in Baltimore County.

 

Shannon McDonald with the Green Towson Alliance said, “It’s a huge county. Just because it happened here in Towson doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen in other locations as well.”

 

The protest drew two of the Democratic candidates running for Baltimore County Executive. State Senator Jim Brochin, who represents Towson, promised to get developers out of county politics if he is elected.

 

“My planning board is going to have environmentalists and community leaders on it,” Brochin said. “That’s who is going to make the decisions on development in Baltimore County.”

 

Johnny Olszewski Junior promised to bring transparency and accountability to county government if he’s elected county executive.

 

“From multiple budget hearings, moving council sessions to the evening, posting more information on line and allowing residents to have access to our books,” said Olszewski.

 

Soon after the protest broke up at York and Bosley, the county council voted on proposals to change the county charter, which spells out the rules and regulations for county government.

 

One proposed change approved by the council would allow 65 days from the time legislation is introduced before it must come to a vote, rather than the current 40 days. Advocates have complained legislation gets rushed through council with amendments added at the last minute. Council chairman Julian Jones says the extra time would give the council the opportunity to get it right.

 

“And I’m sure I’m speaking for everybody here that is our goal which is to always get it right,” Jones said.

 

Another one that council approved would make it clear that the county public works department needs to think about more than cars when planning transportation projects. The department was created in the 1950s. So not surprisingly, Republican Councilman David Marks says the current language in the charter is all about highways. 

 

“The new language says the following: the department of public works shall be responsible for mobility, traffic safety and engineering, using a variety of transportation options including highways, bike lanes, pedestrian improvement and transit where appropriate,” Marks said.

 

Some other, more technical changes to the charter were passed last night as well. The ones that council approved will be put on the November ballot for voters to decide.

 

One proposed change to the charter was withdrawn. It would have forced the county executive to give council members information when they request it.