Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach sent out an email today urging county residents to tell their council member to vote against the current slate of candidates for the Charter Review Commission because it contains four lobbyists:
According to his firm’s website: “Mr. Gontrum is director of the Towson office of the firm and is co-chairman of the Real Estate Section and also the Real Estate Development, Leasing and Land Use Industry Group. He has over 35 years of experience representing industrial, commercial and residential developers, businesses, institutions and individuals on a wide variety of land use, zoning and development issues. His practice concentrates on Baltimore County land use and development with particular attention to issues arising in eastern Baltimore County and waterfront development.”
A spokesperson for Almond says that the councilwoman stands by her nomination of Gontrum despite his position as a lobbyist and the fact that he does not live in the district she represents.
“Councilwoman Almond served her community as an activist for 30 years before the citizens of District 2 elected her to the county council, where she continues to have positive working relationships with community leaders throughout her area,” the spokesperson said. “Based on her understanding of the community, its needs, Mr. Gontrum‘s experience and the requirements of the position, Councilwoman Almond stands by her selection for the Charter Review Committee.”
Councilman David Marks, who represents the Towson area, did not nominate a lobbyist but he said last week that he will vote in favor of the slate. He could not be reached for comment today.
Both Gilliss and Karceski were nominated by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Smith is the son of former county executive Jim Smith.
Karceski’s firm represents Caves Valley Partners, which is pursuing a controversial Royal Farms at Bosley Avenue and York Road. He is also the lawyer representing Mark Renbaum, the developer behind a much-protested Starbucks drive-through on York Road where Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh and Anneslie converge.
Kach’s email said:
To my many friends and neighbors of Baltimore County,
Over the past week my office has heard from hundreds of Baltimore County residents, unanimously calling for a halt of the appointment of Lobbyists to the Baltimore County Charter Review Commission by some members of the County Council and our County Executive. There have been several articles covering the topic in the local and regional media, polls via email and social media, and the response has been unwavering in its opposition to these appointments. More than 500 people took part in online polling, and only 11 individuals voted in favor of lobbyist appointments. The vote to approve the membership of the Commission is scheduled for this evening, which means that there is still time to do more. If you know everything you need to, and you are ready to start calling, writing or contacting, click here to contact members of the Council, click here to contact County Executive Kamenetz, click here to take part in the Green Towson Alliance take action campaign, and go to the bottom of this email for additional contacts to help stop these appointments.
If you want to better understand this issue, or if this is the first you’ve heard of it, we want to answer all of your questions. There has been some misinformation circulating on social media however that had led to some confusion about what voting NO would really mean. Below we address the most common questions we have received and provide links to extensive information regarding these issues.
Q – What is the Charter Review Commission?
A – The Baltimore County Charter Review Commission was approved by Baltimore County voters by referendum in the November 2016 election. It calls for the creation of a commission every 10 years to review the County Charter and to make recommendations to the Council to make local government more responsive to the interests and concerns of the public.
The Baltimore County Charter is the foundational document which establishes and enumerates the constitutional responsibilities and separations of power for the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of Baltimore County. This commission will have broad authority to recommend changes to the way the County conducts its business. Issues such as land use, development rights, ethics reform, taxation, and spending will be front and center when this commission convenes.
Q – Who is slated for appointment?
A – On February 6, 2017 the Councilman Quirk’s office issued a press release announcing a slate of appointees to the Charter Review Commission.
Q – How do we know that these appointees are lobbyists?
A – There are many ways to demonstrate that they engage in lobbying, starting with a review of the 2016-17 Baltimore County Lobbying Registry, a document that I posted publicly to my website last week. This document proves that three of the four appointees in question have engaged in significant lobbying activity over the past 12 months, and primarily on issues that will likely be addressed during the Charter Review Process. You can also look to the media where not one of the potential appointees has denied serving as a lobbyist to Baltimore County, and in fact Mr. Gontrum actually spoke before our County Council Work Session about his lobbying work just last week. Mr. Karceski has already registered to engage in lobbying for 2017, suggesting his intention to continue representing the special interests in question. You can review links to all of the appointees bios and press references to their activities here.
Q – Didn’t you support the creation of this Commission?
A – I cosponsored the resolution calling for the creation of the Commission and had always been in full support of a periodic review of the Charter, however after I learned who was being slated for appointment, I immediately withdrew my sponsorship and support of the resolution establishing the membership of the Commission. Because the issues the Commission will confront are so important and so sensitive, I believe it is vital to make sure the members of the Commission are unencumbered by conflicts of interest. Because four proposed members of the Commission are lobbyists with business currently before the County Council, I cannot support their appointment. Should my colleagues reconsider and suggest new members free from blatant conflicts of interest, I would reconsider.
Q – If we are successful in our efforts and the vote fails, what will happen?
A – We have received dozens of calls, messages and emails from citizens concerned that if the Commission vote fails, there will be no Commission. This is NOT TRUE. Were we able to convince enough of my colleagues to choose another path and vote no on the currently proposed membership, a new slate of appointees would necessarily be developed. Another vote would take place in the coming weeks, and the convening of the commission would be delayed by mere weeks. While I believe that the task before this Commission is important, I believe that it is more important to ensure that those carrying out such a task are unencumbered by conflicts of interest. I believe the people of Baltimore County deserve a Commission that will speak for them and their interests.
Q – Where can I learn more?
A simple review of the comments on each of these links provides more than enough evidence of the overwhelming opposition to the lobbyist membership of this Commission.
Q – How can we help to put a stop to these appointments?
A – The vote is scheduled for TONIGHT at 6 pm. That means you have all day to make an impact and be heard. If you feel as I do, that lobbyists with clear conflicts of interest have no place on this Commission, let my colleagues know. Contact the council members responsible for the appointments via phone, email, and social media and let them know that you demand that they reconsider their appointment selection. Contact our County Executive, Kevin Kamenetz via phone, email, and social media, and let him know that you oppose his appointments and demand that he reconsider. Contact the remaining council members and ask that they please reconsider their vote on this Commission until such time as new members are selected, that are free from special interest conflicts. And lastly, take part in the Green Towson Alliance Take action project… it only takes a few minutes.
We work for you, and your voice matters. Thank you for taking an active interest in the governance of this beautiful county that we call home.
~ The Office of Councilman Kach, Councilmatic District 3 of Baltimore County
CLICK HERE for the Green Towson Alliance Take Action Contact Campaign
Contact Information for Districts that appointed lobbyists –
Councilmatic District 6:
Phone Numbers: 410-887-3196 (request transfer to office)
Contact information for County Executive:
Contact information for remaining County Council Members –
Councilmatic District 1:
Telephone: District Office 410-887-0896 | Towson Office 410-887-3386
Councilmatic District 4:
Councilmatic District 5:
Councilmatic District 7: