The public wants a caretaker' to replace Kamenetz

Intrigue grows over who will finish late Baltimore County executive's term

By: Bryan P. Sears Daily Record Government Reporter May 22, 2018

An influential lawmaker says the Baltimore County Council should avoid naming a councilmember to succeed the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and instead pick a caretaker — namely Chief of Staff Donald Mohler.


Sen. Delores Kelley’s comments came hours before the council was scheduled to take public testimony Tuesday night about potential replacements. The powerful west side Democrat and Kamenetz supporter said she believes it’s in the county’s best interests to name someone familiar with county government who can take over immediately and doesn’t have to split his or her focus on a campaign.


“You must put the welfare of the citizens of Baltimore County above everything else,” said Kelley. “My take on it is that you should pick someone who knows the whole operation, knows the vision Kevin had and knows the timeline, has a good relationship with everyone and has no vested interest in how the election turns out.”


That person, according to Kelley, is Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff.


“Don Mohler has been there a while and knows what’s going on. He gets along well with everybody — Republicans, Democrats, neighborhood people, business people.


Mohler, a longtime resident of Catonsville, came up through the Baltimore County Public Schools system where he finally retired after serving as a teacher, principal and an area superintendent. He later served as a senior adviser to two Democratic County executives, James T. Smith and Kamenetz. He has never been elected to public office.


Kelley’s endorsement has political implications.


The West Baltimore County Democratic Club, where Kelley is president, endorsed John Olszewski Jr. for county executive over Councilwoman Vicki Almond and state Sen. Jim Brochin. Additionally, Council Chairman Julian Jones is said to be interested in the position though he is running for a second term on the council.


Kelley could have some support from unlikely allies.


Councilman David Marks, the senior Republican on the council, said he believes he and the other two Republicans on the council would prefer to name a caretaker who isn’t a candidate or member of the county council.


“I believe the public wants a caretaker,” said Marks. “I don’t think they want a candidate in that position.”


Marks said appointing a member of the council, particularly one who is running for the office already, such as Almond, could give an unfair advantage to one candidate over another.


Marks acknowledged that Mohler could fill the role but said he favors Barry F. Williams, the head of the county Department of Recreation and Parks and former head of the county’s Office of Workforce Development. Williams, a former area executive officer in the Baltimore City schools system, is  the brother of Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County.


“He’s done an awful lot,” Marks said of Williams.


If selected, Williams would become the first African-American Baltimore County Executive.
All eyes have been on the council since the Kamenetz died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest nearly two weeks ago.


The Baltimore County Charter tasks the seven-member county council with naming a successor in the event that the county executive cannot complete the term — an event that has only happened once since 1956 when the charter took effect.


The charter does not set out timeline for making a decision. In the meantime, County Administrative Officer Fred Homan has served as the acting executive, per the charter.


“I’d like to get it done sooner than later,” said Jones. “It’s absorbing a lot of time. There are a lot of phone calls, a lot of opinions. Everyone who calls, everyone you talk to has an opinion.”
If a more permanent successor is selected, it must be a member of the Democratic Party.
“Fred knows the work,” Kelley said. “I don’t think he has the benefit of good relationships with the citizens and various constituency groups that will matter.”


Some council members including Jones, the council leader, suggested that the legislative body should make a decision sooner than later. The term ends on Dec. 3 with the swearing-in of the new elected county executive. Additionally, with the approach of summer, the council will meet in legislative session just once in June, July and August.


Jones, who also would become the first African American to lead the county if he were selected, sidestepped questions about his interest in seeking the position.


“If called upon to do it, I would do it and I would do a good job,” said Jones.
Jones said his preference would be for someone who has been elected to public office to be appointed to the position.


“They would be more responsive to the citizens than a bureaucrat,” Jones said.
The council has already received more than 125 comments from the public as of Monday regarding a replacement to Kamenetz, said Jones.


In addition to Mohler, Williams, Jones and Almond, other names offered up as possible interim successors include Homan, and three Democratic former county executives — Theodore G. “Ted” Venetoulis, an ally of Kamenetz; Donald Hutchinson, the chief executive officer of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore;  and James T. Smith, who is currently serving as the chief of strategic alliances for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.


Jones expressed optimism that the council could name a successor as early as Thursday when the panel meets to give final approval on the fiscal 2019 budget.


Jones, speaking on Tuesday, said it was not likely there would be another public meeting to vet a short list of candidates. Instead, he said, he expects the council to vote on a replacement in a coming legislative session. The council meets Thursday morning to give final approval to the fiscal 2019 budget.


Jones held out hope that the council could make a decision by Thursday but said the council has not reached a consensus. He called the situation “fluid.”


“I’m an optimist,” Jones said. “I hope that it happens. I’m not a betting man, but we need to do it.”