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APFIRE - County Council votes on dead bills

So many people looked forward, sort of, to Monday night’s Council legislative session, in anticipation of the votes on CB60,61 and 62. I have seen so many of these sessions, since 2010, that I cannot even count, and they typically last an hour, unless there is something contentious then maybe a few hours. We had two very contentious, amendment-filled Bills to be voted upon, so I thought it might go until 10 or 11pm.

It didn’t start out well, as everyone wondered why the Bride wasn’t showing up as the clock ticked past 7, 7:30, then it was announced they wouldn’t be starting until 8PM, very surprising.

The mulching bill took a long time, during which many veteran hearing attendees were wondering why it seemed to be going more like a work session than a voting session, with so much discussion and commenting. Then APFO amendments started to be addressed. One of the amendments to the amendments was supposed to have a back page which was blank so they had to stop and get more copies made which took 20-30 minutes. Back to the stage, and lots more opinions being expressed, discussions being made and painfully slow voting.

Around 11:40PM someone asked me if I could text a Council Member and see if the Bill had to pass by midnight. I started looking up the dates and counting days online, and then my phone died. I was worried. No one wanted to interrupt the Council without being sure, but then as the vote was finally ready to happen on the whole Bill, with amendments done, it was about a quarter past midnight. I saw MD Builder Association members Josh Greenfeld and Jamie Frazier pull out their phones and videotape the vote, and pan over to the clock, click on the screen to get a focus on the clock, then pan back to the voting.

Then I knew. There was a real problem. Something bad was happening. The APFO Bill that had just passed was stricter with closing development than many had thought would be achieved. Many felt celebratory, and I felt so badly that it likely "didn't count", at least not yet.

As soon as they were finished, I went up to Jen Terrasa and told her of the concern about the Bills being dead. I also told Jon Weinstein. Late that night and early the next morning, Ms. Terrasa was working on getting an answer as quickly as possible. We now know, the Bills were dead on Sunday at midnight, not Monday at midnight. It is up to some interpretation as to exactly when the Bills died, with various code language saying Sunday, some language saying ending on a Sunday is Monday, etc. The Office of Law is taking an understandably conservative viewpoint here, and saying the Bills are dead.

APFO can be reintroduced, but will require another public hearing, then a vote the month after that. No Bills can be done in December, so the APFO vote will happen in Feb, hopefully as is. The mulching bill was a ZRA, so that will take longer, having to go back to the Planning Board and then become a Bill to the Council, etc. etc.

There is a lot of talk about who knew this, and when. We don’t know. What we can surmise, is what would have happened had this not been caught so immediately. In Jon Weinstein’s amendment 20 to APFO, which “passed” and controlled the capacity limits and high school test, it included not implementing those things for about a year. When that time had approached, it would have been then that the error would have been pointed out and the bill deemed unenforceable. That would have put the new vote past the next election.

I hate to think that would have raised the possibility of having that vote differ from Monday night’s votes, but I do know this. There was talk about desiring APFO to NOT be voted upon until after the election by certain Council Members, and if this error had not been caught, that is exactly what would have happened.

So, I will give benefits of many doubts here, and hope all is fixed and as is on APFO. I will cringe as we go through the same process and hearings all over again. I will literally pray that the three votes passing amendment 20 and the Bill do not change for any reason, and I will move forward with other Howard County community civic and political work.

I think the greatest disappointment, and yes, worse than any judgment about how and why the mistake was made, or even God forbid anyone knowing about it and not mentioning it, was to berate the community and yet NOT subsequently question the actions of videotaping the vote and clock. I have recently been told by Jamie Frazier that they only realized the possibility of the expiration date that night, in the moment.

Mary Kay Sigaty and Greg Fox made intense comments about the County being ruined by too much closing of development with what had passed. Greg Fox called Calvin Ball disingenuous. Jon Weinstein said something about public discourse being “mean-spirited”.

No matter who knew what, when, taking a picture of the clock seemed like the expiration issue was known, and the question was when. A suspicion arose in the community that the builders knew there was a problem and did NOT inform the Council, and work together on that issue. They are afforded huge consideration with policy-making and legislation, in partnership with the County and community. If they knew something was wrong, and acted solely to take advantage of it would they be called to the carpet? If a civic leader had done that, he/she would have been condemned, credibility destroyed and likely less of an ear and consideration given from the Council in the future. But this was just fine? At the time this occurred and in the days afterward, it wasn't questioned, and so I raised the question. I am now told by Mr. Frazier who reached out to say they only realized it in the moment.

I just feel that if Council Members are going to berate people for not being civil, if we are going to call out public mean-spirited discourse, then that applies to all. There is something that needed to be questioned then, and wasn't. I hope we can all work together, with civil communications, in the future.

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