After state lawmakers submitted a record high number of bill requests days before a key drafting deadline, Senate President Bill Ferguson cautioned senators to be realistic about what the chambers can accomplish in the 90-day legislative session.
To ensure the drafting of a bill’s text before the chambers’ introduction deadlines, lawmakers must submit requests for the potential laws to be written by a deadline, called “guarantee day,” which this year fell on January 20. Legislative services, the department responsible for writing the bills, confirmed receiving more than 700 requests in the last two days before the deadline — which set a new record.
“Because it [a bill] gets a hearing if it comes in on the guarantee date, every bill has a hearing, has review, has the potential for amendments, and it is the one thing we cannot get back is time,” Ferguson told senators during a Monday floor session.
Lawmakers can continue to submit bill requests throughout the 90-day sprint, but it is less likely a standing committee will consider them.
During a Friday news conference, Ferguson thanked the Department of Legislative Services for the “Herculean” amount of work they do every year and applauded the “talented professionals” he said “always perform exceedingly well.”
The record for the most bills requested during a session was 3,946 in 2018, according to legislative services.
Baltimore County still hasn’t promoted acting public works director
Baltimore County still doesn’t have a permanent public works director, two months after voters approved a charter change to eliminate the qualification that the county infrastructure chief be a licensed engineer.
The County Council proposed bipartisan legislation to put the county charter amendment question to voters, paving the way for current Department of Public Works and Transportation Acting Director D’Andrea Walker to get the job on a permanent basis.
Walker, who worked for more than a decade in local and state transportation administrative offices, oversees the “technical management” of one of the county’s largest agencies — its operating budget alone totals more than $400 million and has roughly 900 employees, according to a county news release. The agency maintains county roads, utilities, engineering and construction services, solid waste management, and transportation.
But Walker was left out of the County Council’s department head reappointments this month — a fact that wasn’t lost on Council Chair Julian Jones.
“When are we gonna get you up here, Ms. Walker?” Jones asked during a Jan. 17 council meeting where a handful of agency officials made their pitches for reappointment.
Throughout January, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s administration dodged similar questions from The Banner, despite supporting the law change that would enable Walker to lead the public works department permanently. The County Council is now expected to vote on whether Walker will be permanently installed as the county’s infrastructure chief during its Feb. 6 meeting.
Walker’s continued service as acting director is a charter violation in itself — the county is supposed to be prohibited from retaining an interim agency director for longer than 60 days.
The charter amendment was approved by 86.6% of Baltimore County voters in November, but the charter has still not been updated to reflect the public works directors’ new qualifications. County bylaws still refer to the public works director as the county’s “chief engineer.”
The agency’s new moniker of “public works and transportation,” however, is updated in the code, although an editor’s note says the title was changed by a 2021 council bill before voters were also asked. The code was last updated in May 2022, according to Municode, which provides an electronic copy of local bylaws.
Asked why the code hadn’t been revised, Olszewski’s spokeswoman said an update is expected “next week.”
The County Council must approve the directors who lead top agencies, including public works.
A Democrat now in his second term, Olszewski appointed Walker as acting director in 2020 after hiring her as the county’s first deputy director of transportation within the public works department to manage the county’s transportation priorities — specifically transit projects like the Towson Circulator.
Walker replaced acting public works director Thomas Keifer, who retired in October 2020. Keifer, who previously led the county’s bureaus of construction and utilities, oversaw the department for just months after former director Steve Walsh, whose career in the department began in 1990, retired in May 2020.
Walker has been involved in Office of the Inspector General reports, including a November investigation that found she approved using alley repaving program money meant for homeowners to benefit a commercial property. In May last year, Baltimore Brew reported that “all five bureau chiefs, four division chiefs and five section chiefs” in the public works department had resigned or retired under Walker.
Walker earned $198,115 last fiscal year, according to county salary records. The charter amendment did not change the qualifications for public works deputy director — who still must be a licensed engineer.
New job for an old Hogan hand
Steve Crim, the architect of former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s improbable first election victory in 2014, has a new project called Common Sense Maryland.
Common Sense Maryland is a nonprofit advocacy organization that Crim says will “fight for common sense to prevail against the failed status quo institutions that have hindered forward progress in our state.”
Crim said his group will lobby state lawmakers this year on issues including “holding the line on taxes and government spending,” supporting businesses, promoting “energy diversification,” improving education and fighting crime.
Crim was a co-founder of Hogan’s Change Maryland organization back in 2011, which gave Hogan a platform to speak out on political issues and eventually led to his first run for governor in 2014. Crim managed that first campaign, seen by many as a political upset over Democratic nominee Anthony Brown (who now is the state’s attorney general).
Crim also had two stints working in Hogan’s State House office and has been a strategist and consultant for various candidates.
Council members weigh in on vacancies in mayor’s cabinet
A Baltimore councilwoman directly addressed the string of vacancies in Mayor Brandon Scott’s cabinet on Monday, asking for an official explanation from the administration.
11th District Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who represents South Baltimore, called for a hearing into the matter at a council meeting.
The Democrat said she intends to “understand the executive vacancies that are existing in the city of Baltimore ... and ensure that our agencies are moving effectively and efficiently as possible.”
Councilmembers have little control over the chief executive, who through Baltimore’s strong-mayor system runs the bulk of City Hall. Porter’s hearing is notable for its tacit questioning of Scott’s staff operations.
Representatives for the mayor and different city agencies will now have to answer direct questions about the number of interim staff and their plans to fill vacant roles.
The milkshake caucus
Gov. Wes Moore and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller lunched together at the Annapolis landmark diner Chick & Ruth’s Delly on Monday, kicking off the Democrats’ first full week since being inaugurated.
The brightly colored orange and yellow eatery famously names sandwiches after politicians and decorates walls with their photographs. Moore’s and Miller’s framed photos were hung above the governor’s booth, a seat reserved for the state’s top executive.
While the hungry politicos waited for their grilled sandwiches, they shook hands and posed for photos with customers and staff, then sat at a table and toasted each other with their milkshake glasses.
As Moore sipped on a “Shake Rattle & Roll” — a concoction of a banana shake combined with vanilla peanut butter ice cream and chocolate syrup and garnished with a bacon slice, whipped cream and peanut butter-smeared rim — he told reporters he’ll suggest a combo platter as his signature meal rather than a sandwich.
“I want to do crab cake and waffles,” Moore told reporters. “Because I did not see anything like that up there.”
Throughout his campaign, Moore asserted he’ll do things differently than other politicians. He said the savory-sweet combo will mirror his approach: “We’re not afraid to do things a little bit different.”
As for Miller, she’ll choose her go-to comfort food — a grilled cheese on rye bread with pickles tucked inside.
But before the executives’ menu placards don the walls of the Main Street eatery, owner Spencer Jones may have to make some space, clearing out menu items named after politicians who have long been out of office.
Jones doesn’t get too involved with politicians and their meal choices, he said. He did recommend Moore should just choose his favorite because in politics “there’s always going to be people who are on board with what you do and people who aren’t. So you just kinda have to do what you think is right.”