Friday, December 5, 2014

Extreme Makeover: County Administration Edition

While our local eyes have been glued to the gripping "soda ban" (or ban-on-the-sale-of...) saga, the real interesting news on the County Exec front relates to the planned "restructuring" of the County Administration.  County Executive Kittleman has repeatedly emphasized his interest in making the Office on Aging its own Department, which presumably will focus on services for senior citizens (say that five times fast).  I don't have a clear picture on exactly what that will entail, but it does communicate an interest in placing greater focus on older County residents as opposed to new arrivals (i.e., West County v. East County).

While Amanda Yeager noted that long-time-Ulman-aide Josh Feldmark had been let go, there was no comment regarding what would become of his one-man department - The Office of Environmental Sustainability.  According to the OES website, this position was created by County Executive Ulman at the recommendation of the Commission on the Environment  and Sustainability and approved by the County Council.  The Office is further described on the website:

The Howard County Office of Environmental Sustainability aims to protect and enhance natural resources and the quality of life in our community through the conservation, preservation, and restoration of our land, air, and water, guided by the principles of science, ingenuity, sustainability, and stewardship.

Howard County environmentalists have reason to believe that the OES is imperiled.  Josh Feldmark was likely to be fired in a Republican administration regardless, and has the credentials to pick the "green job" of his choice, but those in the community who would like to see Howard County continue its leadership role on environmental initiatives also want OES restaffed and maintained.   A letter from Lori Lilly and other members of the environmental community to County Executive Kittleman described the following services provided by the OES over the past eight years:

  • Needed coordination among County Departments with regards to environmental initiatives and programs;
  • Management of the stormwater utility fee, required by the Maryland Department of the Environment and Environmental Protection Agency, and rebate programs.  If we lose the stormwater utility funds, we would need to find new funding to complete the required work.  These funds also support many jobs in our County for the assessment, design and construction of stormwater management projects;
  • Critical support for programs such as Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth (READY) and the Watershed Stewards Academy (WSA) through cross-department coordination, assistance with grants and provision of staff support;
  • Support for efforts of the Watershed Improvement Network via staff assistance and coordination of networking forums for members of the community working on behalf of environmental efforts;
  • Advancement and promotion of the storm drain stenciling program;
  • Leadership for energy efficiency within the Government and in the community;
  • Tax credits for green building development and green businesses;
  • Implementation of the Students Branching Out program for elementary and middle schools, which resulted in the planting of more than 9,000 trees; and
  • Sustainability resources for the community through hosting of the annual GreenFest and Live Green Howard web-site.
(Full disclosure: I signed this letter before it was submitted to the Executive and County Council)

The County Executive should be permitted room to make the Administration his own and that will include reshuffling of personnel, dismissals, and the closing of departments.  But as the County Executive said on the campaign trail, we are the boss.  County Government, by its very nature, makes decisions that have dramatic impacts on our local environment, watershed(s), and flooding.  The OES served an important role in coordinating the work being done across numerous departments and evaluating the impact of proposed legislation.  This boss would like to see it continue.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!