Weekly Letter: Notes from Our Week of Winter

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Winter is actually happening. It may be uncomfortable, but you can’t have a thaw without a good freeze, right? So thanks to our DPW road crews and our public safety folks for keeping us safe, and let’s look forward to warmer weather ahead.

MLK Day at Sarah’s House
Monday, I and some of my staff celebrated MLK Day with a visit to Sarah’s House, the county’s primary shelter for families located in an old Army barracks on Fort Meade. 

We cleaned some of the apartments where families pay a third of their income for rent for up to a year while working with staff to move on to permanent housing elsewhere. We also visited the shelter rooms where people can stay 90 days for free, while paying off debt, finding work, and getting their lives back together. 70% move from Sarah’s House to permanent housing. It’s an extraordinary program that is affiliated with Catholic Charities and partially funded by the county. I love the place and the people who run it.

The Governor Listened
On Monday night I joined a call with the Governor’s Office and Transportation Secretary Wiedefeld to give county executives a heads-up that the Highway User Revenue funds and Locally Operated Transit System funds we thought we would lose this year, plus some other state transportation funds, would be covered with a one-year transfer from the state’s general fund. This buys time for the Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs Commission to propose a longer term fix.

It wasn’t only good news to counties, but also a signal that this Governor listens to his local partners. Praise on the call was bipartisan. It’s a good time to be a county executive in Maryland.

Club 164
On Tuesday night I sat with a bar full of people at Club 164 as a panelist for the nationally televised Your Voice Your Future Town Hall series, led by Mark Hyman. It will run on 120 news stations across the country.

Club 164 is a pretty swanky joint just outside Annapolis with leather couches, a brick interior wall, lots of big tv screens, a long bar that people lean against to order drinks, and a game room. But there’s not a drop of alcohol to be found. Most of the clientele are recovering from some kind of addiction.

It’s run with mostly volunteer labor and was started a couple of years ago by Brock Anderson, a guy in the restaurant industry who’s had his own history with addiction. The county has provided small grants to help with the childcare services they offer, but it’s otherwise all funded with donations and revenue from snacks and nonalcoholic drinks. 

I like hanging out with the recovery community. They are some of the strongest and least judgmental people I know.

New Territory in Housing
Yesterday morning I logged into the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) first Legislative Committee meeting of the 2024 Maryland General Assembly. I don’t attend them all, but this was the one where the opening presentation was from the Governor’s Office on the topic of his housing bills. 

Counties generally don’t like it when the state tells them what they can and can’t do in the area of land use, and for the last six months, MACO and the Governor’s Department of Housing and Community Development have been negotiating on that very topic. 

The Moore Administration wants to prevent counties from using land use legislation to block production of badly-needed affordable housing units. The proposed bills require counties to do things like offering density bonuses - allowing more housing units per acre - in developments that offer a quarter of their units at affordable prices. I believe it’s good public policy.

The presentation by the Governor’s office was well done. It referenced the input received from MACO staff, and stressed shared values and needs. But I was braced for pushback that never came, pushback from some county leaders that I’d heard in previous meetings on the topic. That to me was progress. I made a note to myself to congratulate both the Governor’s staff and the MACO staff who’d worked so hard to find common ground - common ground that will put roofs over heads and strengthen our economy. 

Crownsville on NBC Nightly News
Yesterday afternoon I did a cold outdoor filming session with an NBC news crew at Crownsville. Reflecting on the past and the future in the bright sunshine, on the snow-covered broken asphalt, amidst the abandoned hospital buildings with author Antonia Hylton and historian Janice Hayes-Williams was energizing. 

We are so lucky to live in a time when we know what must happen to right the wrongs of the past, and might actually create the liberty and justice for all that we pledge our allegiance to before the flag.

Budget Town Hall #1
I spent two hours last night in the auditorium at Annapolis High School sitting next to Councilmember Lisa Rodvien and listening to dozens of District Six residents’ testimony about priorities for the FY25 county budget. 

So many good people. So many good causes. Such good work. Time well spent.

My Homebuilder Friends
And today, I checked in with forty or so builders, home builders to be specific. It was their first monthly meeting of the year, where they review regulatory issues with county staff. 

I joined them to make another pitch for their support of our Essential Worker Housing Access Act, or some reincarnation of the bill that requires new housing developments to include a percentage of units at a rent or purchase price that is below the market rate. 

I understand their opposition from a business perspective, but asked them to look at the big picture of economic health. They are good people. They want families to be housed and businesses to thrive. I think we made progress. From frost to thaw. Stay tuned.

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman
Anne Arundel County Executive