Weekly Letter: Being a Pinball

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My scheduler, Janine Fratantuono, did the job for Laura Neuman, Larry Hogan, some state officials, and now me. She tells me that I say yes too much and need to slow down. As this week comes to an end, I’m thinking she might have a point. But I’ll forget that by Monday.

Sunday night was our launch of Black History Month at Maryland Hall, where we recognized “A Few of the Many” Black history makers in our county. It’s an event we started with the Caucus of African American Leaders in a conference room at the Arundel Center in 2019, and it just keeps growing. We recognized Black leaders in the arts this year, and our CECS team and event planner knocked it out of the park.

On Monday night, the County Council ended its meeting on an ominous note. The three Republicans and one Democrat pushed through a resolution that appears to have left the institution with a flawed management structure whereby the top three staff positions must get approval from all seven members on routine matters. Until now those approvals were handled by the chair. With staff vacancies to fill, comprehensive rezoning bills coming before the Council, and budget season looming, this must be resolved quickly.

Tuesday was the best day, because I was able to visit Holly Beach Farm, the extraordinary 300 acres overlooking the Bay just south of the bridge, with Governor Moore, Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) staff and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff. An official transfer of the property’s ownership from CBF to DNR will take place very soon, and after some much-needed repairs and improvements there the public will be able to experience some of the most ecologically diverse and beautiful nature in the state. Governor Moore is normally talkative, but that day he was mostly speechless. The place is that powerful.

On both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I sat for Budget Town Halls in the last two of seven districts. I say “sat” because that’s what I do at the front table, next to the Councilmember from the district, as a stream of residents and county employees stand in front of us, each giving two minutes of impassioned pleas for specific public investments.

Budget Town Halls are important, but I don’t enjoy them. I am the only person who can put what people want into the budget. The Council can make changes, but I make the proposal. Allowing myself to feel peoples’ pain or frustration is essential. I do it knowing that we can’t fund a lot of what they’re asking for, so it’s uncomfortable.

The hardest part is when public servants who I love and admire drive home the harsh reality that local governments are facing across the country. There are more jobs than jobseekers, especially in Maryland where the unemployment rate is the lowest in the country. Positions are vacant, so the people in the work have to do multiple jobs. Jurisdictions are competing fiercely for teachers, librarians, school health staff, detention officers, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, and police. Especially police. 

I am proud that our internal task force has created a list of smart recommendations to accelerate hiring, including a series of changes that are soon to be considered by the County Council. But we also have to look at compensation. Stay tuned as I consult with the budget office and county council members about the revenue side of the budget. The math will be hard this year.

Some other highlights this week were good meetings with both the Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce and the Realtors Association on moderately priced dwelling unit legislation, great progress putting together the March 9 and 10 Youth Gun Violence Prevention Weekend with our friends at Tunnel Vision, and signing an agreement to acquire the old Giant Food building in Edgewater for much-needed indoor recreation space. I was also present in the Maryland House Chamber for the Governor’s extraordinary State of the State speech. I watch this Governor very closely, because he is working at a level I’ve never before seen in government. He is truly inspiring the kind of can-do, inclusive engagement that our future depends on. 

And just today I had the great pleasure of joining county executives from across the country at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy for sessions led by one of my favorite mentors, Rushern Baker. We explored land use policy and management challenges, followed by a fascinating discussion with former RNC Chair and Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. 

During a whirlwind week like this, it’s easy to feel like a pinball, just bouncing down the board. But it all settles down and makes sense when I come home to my wife and kids, especially on a Friday afternoon like this one before a weekend when somehow my amazing scheduler kept EVERYTHING off my calendar for the whole weekend. 

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman
Anne Arundel County Executive