New Academy Graduate Class: Government, Civility & Negotiation

In these days of partisan rhetoric, division within government, and a growing need to work together, it is more important than ever that public officials consider this question: Is civility up for negotiation?

academylogoGraduates of the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance will have the opportunity to explore the dynamics of civility in government through a new course: Government, Civility, and Negotiation. This one-day session is designed for Academy Graduates – elected and appointed officials of Maryland’s counties and municipalities who are seeking approaches to work more effectively in their communities. This interactive workshop will present a negotiation framework based on the work of Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Captain Mark Adamshick, faculty on leadership and ethics at the US Naval Academy, West Point, and the University of Maryland, will lead participants through case studies and group discussions with the goal of finding methods for negotiation in governance that create atmospheres of respect and collaboration.

To register for the course, participants must be Graduates of the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance. Local government officials with questions about their Academy transcript or status should call the registrar at 301.314.2641 or email her at awashin1@umd.edu.

Details:

Anne Arundel Budget Proposal to Increase Teacher Salaries

Anne Arundel County Executive Schuh has announced that his proposed operating budget will include an incremental increase for county school system employees, as reported by abc2News.

As abc2News, WMAR reports,

The budget proposal includes $15.6 million to fund compensation increases that would begin July 1.

“For the third year in a row, we are committed to pay increases for our teachers,” Schuh said.

The budget proposal will be formally introduced on May 1, at which time Conduit Street will provide additional coverage.

For more information on the step increase see Step increase for Anne Arundel Co. school system employees, from abc2News.

MACo’s Weekly County News & Notes…from Twitter

The social media site Twitter has become a fast-moving setting for news, information, and advocacy on public affairs. We welcome followers of MACo’s own twitter feed for updates from the Conduit Street blog and other MACo hot topics, and often use Twitter to reach our own audience, and to hear from others following the same issues as county leaders.

Here are some tweets that caught our eye this week:

For more news and information:

Follow MACo
Follow Executive Director Michael Sanderson
Follow NACo
See Tweets on #mdpolitics

Allegany Budget Proposed, Tough Choices Paying Off

The Allegany County Commissioners received their Finance Department’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget last week, which includes $86.9 million budgeted to the general fund, and no tax increases. The total budget is $124.2 million. The budget increases by 0.74 percent over fiscal 2017, and reduces the property tax rate by one penny.

In his cover letter to the County Commissioners, Allegany Director of Finance Jason writes:

The hard decisions and tough cuts and sacrifices of the past several years are allowing us to present this budget with slight increases and allows us to continue to maintain a strong financial position that the tax payers deserve of their government. We have reached or exceed our goals for debt service and fund balance continues to be well positioned so that we may offer the services we promise to our citizens.

The Board of Education’s budget increases by $254,323, or 0.8 percent over fiscal 2017, meeting maintenance of effort. County employees receive a two percent Cost of Living Adjustment. Debt service decreases by a small amount and makes up 3.4 percent of the budget.

The budget reflects an increase of 16 percent in health insurance costs. During the next year, the county intends to rebid its health insurance and explore a retirement incentive for county employees.

Nearly half of revenues funding the general fund come from the property tax, which funds 47.38 percent of the budget. Income tax revenues, which are projected to decline by $500,000, fund 30.67 percent. The state disparity grant funds 10.28 percent of Allegany’s general fund.

Most of the general fund – 70.4 percent – funds services not directly provided by county government. This includes K-12 education (35 percent), and the detention center and Allegany College (8.8 percent each), as well as the State’s Attorney’s Office, library, health department, and 911 services.

The Preliminary Budget is available here. Preliminary budget hearings are scheduled for May 4 and 18, with adoption scheduled for June 1. The Capital Improvement Program is scheduled for presentation on May 4, 2017. Questions on the budget may be sent to finance@alleganygov.org.

Calvert County Creates Two New Departments in Government Organization Restructure

The Board of County Commissioners in Calvert County recently announced that it will restructure the government organization to improve overall government operations and services to the public. The plan will create two new departments: Parks & Recreation and Communications and Media Relations. The plan does not call for staff reductions. Changes in the county’s organizational structure will take effect July 1, 2017.

According to the county press release,

The BOCC reviewed and approved the proposed organizational structure in open session during its regular meeting. To better meet the needs of the citizens, changes in the departments of Economic Development, Finance & Budget, General Services, Personnel and Public Safety are planned. The reorganization is a response to guidance established by the BOCC to ensure the effective and efficient use of county resources by determining alternative approaches to the way government is run.

“These changes set the foundation for a more effective county government now and in the years to come,” said BOCC President Tom Hejl. “More effective management of operations will help us provide improved service to Calvert County residents and also help identify talents and skills in the organization that can be grown and better utilized. The reorganization accomplishes a board goal for restructuring and efficiency and its implementation will have long-term benefits to Calvert County.”

“Restructuring has been a personal goal of mine since being selected for office in 2010,” said Board Vice President Evan Slaughenhoupt Jr. “It allows an organization to review and apply efficiencies and processes that make for better government operations. Today’s decision will lead to a better-aligned government that will ultimately better serve the public and our employees.”

As part of the reorganization, two new departments will be created: Parks & Recreation (formerly under the Department of General Services) and Communications and Media Relations (formerly under the Department of Economic Development). In addition, two departments will be renamed. The Office of Personnel will become the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Community Planning & Building will return to its designation as the Department of Planning and Zoning.

The departmental reporting structure will also be realigned along two primary functions. Departments responsible for operations and public services – Planning and Zoning, Community Resources, Economic Development, Parks & Recreation, Public Safety and Public Works – will report to County Administrator Terry Shannon. Departments providing internal support and administrative services – Communications & Media Relations, Finance & Budget, General Services, Human Resources and Technology Services – will report to Deputy County Administrator Wilson Parran.

Click here to view the specific organizational changes.

Fun Fact: Did You Know that the Jacob Leverton Dwelling in Caroline County is the Only Documented Underground Railroad Station Building Remaining on the Eastern Shore?

Question: Did you know that the Jacob Leverton Dwelling in Caroline County is the only documented Underground Railroad station building remaining on the Eastern Shore?

leverton house
Jacob Leverton Dwelling, Courtesy of Caroline County Historical Society

It’s true! Freedom seekers found shelter and assistance in Caroline County as they traveled along the Underground Railroad to Delaware. The Jacob Leverton Dwelling was “the main stopping place,” a focal point around which several adjoining landowners participated in a broad stronghold of Underground Railroad activity. From their early 19th century residence, Quakers Jacob and Hannah Leverton aided escapees moving under cover to freedom in the North. It is a designated site of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. Location: 3531 Seaman Road, Preston, MD.

You can explore by foot and by car the history and the lore of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and others. Sites include: Poplar Neck near Preston where Harriet Tubman made her greatest rescues; the Jacob Leverton Dwelling, (privately owned), the only documented Underground Railroad station building remaining on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; the Courthouse Square in Denton, the site of numerous incidents and the jail that held captured freedom seekers and Underground Railroad agents; and Hillsboro, the location of the permanent separation of Frederick Douglass family among various slaveholders.

caroline countySource: TourCaroline.com

Do you have a fun fact to share about your county? If so, please send it to Kaley Schultze to be featured in MACo’s weekly Fun Fact on Conduit Street.

Tennessee Counties Get A Local Infrastructure Fast Track

Tennessee just increased their gas tax – and that state is sharing its additional transportation revenue with its counties. Last week, Governor Bill Haslam signed the Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act – which is estimated to provide $250 million to the State Department of Transportation, $35 million to cities, and $70 million to counties.

The Act also grants the state’s most populated counties the authority to approve additional tax increases for local transportation projects, if approved by referendum. According to The Tennessean:

Twelve of the state’s most populous counties will be allowed to hold a referendum to ask their residents if they would approve additional tax increases to help pay for transportation projects, including mass transit. If voters approved the referendum, the taxes that local governments could raise are: sales tax, business tax, car rental tax, hotel/motel tax, residential development tax and wheel tax.

Additional surcharges enacted would be capped at 20 percent of the current rate.

Any proposed projects funded by the additional surcharges would be subject to an audit by the state’s comptroller, who would need to sign off on the plan in advance.

Overall, the IMPROVE Act increases the state’s gas tax from 21.4 cents per gallon by six cents per gallon over three years. Diesel taxes increase by 10 cents over three years.  The IMPROVE Act also increases some vehicle registration fees and offsets the impact on its residents’ wallets by decreasing other taxes.

Haslam and others have argued every area in the state will see their projects funded through the bill, and the measure will prevent local governments from using alternative means, such as increasing property taxes, to pay for needed improvements.

Tennessee counties own 64 percent of the State’s public road miles and receive 20 percent of the state’s transportation funding, according to data from 2014 provided by the National Association of Counties. In comparison, Maryland’s counties (excluding Baltimore City) own 69 percent of the public roads, and receive 1.4 percent of highway user revenues. When the Maryland General Assembly increased the gas tax five years ago via the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, none of those new revenues funded local roads and bridges – all of that money funds the Maryland Department of Transportation.

New “Textalyzer” Catches Distracted Drivers Phone-handed

New technology may help law enforcement catch motorists “phone-handed” who text while driving. The new “textalyzer” technology would allow law enforcement to determine whether a driver texted when behind the wheel, particularly immediately before an accident.

For law enforcement to get phone records, they must acquire a warrant first – but the textalyzer would not require this time-consuming step, reports NPR. From the story:

“Phone records — as I found out the hard way — they’re tough to get [and] it’s an agonizing process,” says Ben Lieberman of New Castle, N.Y., whose 19-year-old son was killed in a car crash in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City, in 2011. ….

“We often hear, ‘just get a warrant’ or ‘just get the phone records. … The implication is that the warrant is like filling out some minor form,” he says. “It’s not. In New York, it involves a D.A. and a judge. Imagine getting a D.A. and a judge involved in every breathalyzer that’s administered, every sobriety test that’s administered.”

Leiberman filed a civil lawsuit to subpoena the phone records, which showed the driver had been texting before the crash. But even getting the phone records won’t tell you much, he says. “It doesn’t detect any of the important distractions, like email, social media or web browsing.”

So even though New York and most other states ban texting and other kinds of cellphone use while driving, Lieberman says those laws are difficult to enforce.

“The takeaway is, our current law is a joke,” he says.

Liberman may have found an answer to the problem. He co-founded Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORCs), an advocacy group working with developers to create the textalyzer. A police officer can simply plug it into a driver’s phone, press a button, and within seconds download relevant phone activity, including a summary of what apps on the phone were open and in use, as well as screen taps and swipes. In New York, a bill authorizing textalyzer use has passed out of one committee and is pending in another.

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The device does not download content, reports the device’s developers – but even so, some have concerns about its overreach.

“Distracted driving is a serious concern, but this bill gives police power to take and search our phones after almost every fender-bender,” says Rashida Richardson, legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union. “This is a concern because our phones have some of our most personal and private information — so we’re certain that if this law is enforced as it is proposed, it will not only violate people’s privacy rights, but also civil liberties.”

Distracted driving is, without question, a serious concern. Traffic fatalities are on the rise, and many attribute distracted driving as a likely contributor. Fatalities nationwide increased by six percent last year, or 40,000. Yesterday, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary Pete K. Rahn issued a “call-to-action” to eliminate highway fatalities in Maryland.  Preliminary data collected by MDOT indicates that in 2016, 523 people died in traffic crashes on the state’s roads, up from the 521 who died in 2015. According to the MDOT Highway Safety Office’s Toward Zero Deaths campaign, 185 people die every year in Maryland from distracted driving crashes, and more than 27,000 more are injured.

 

Kirwan Commission Reconvenes, Focuses on Attracting and Retaining High Quality Teachers

After a brief hiatus in honor of the 2017 Maryland legislative session, the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education met today in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission today focused on high-quality teaching and school leadership development.

Maryland schools are having difficulty retaining experienced teachers during their first few years in the profession. Maryland’s education system may suffer from early career departures of its teachers, depleting the system of needed professional expertise.

The Commission heard testimony from Marc Tucker, President and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, who discussed teacher compensation in Maryland. Mr. Tucker noted that starting pay for teachers in top-performing countries is typically at the top of the civil service scale and higher than or equal to beginning engineers, accountants, and registered nurses. However, in Maryland, the difference between the average pay of teachers and engineers is 41%, between teachers and accountants is 21%, and between teachers and registered nurses is 10%.

The Commission acknowledged that recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers is crucial for providing a world-class  K-12 education in Maryland, and seemed amenable to the idea of closing the pay gap between teachers and other similar professions.

The CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises testified on teacher career pathways, a Baltimore City program aimed at rewarding and recognizing teachers and education professionals excelling in their field, both in terms of student outcomes and teacher practices. The program is centered around “Achievement Units (AUs),” which eliminates pay increases based on advanced degrees and instead looks at courses and other professional development activities that correlate to teacher practice and student achievement.

Educators in all content areas and grade levels can earn AUs through the following categories: evaluation, external learning, professional development activities, and professional activities. Dr. Santelises noted that for teachers, the program provides greater opportunities to strengthen their professional practice in order to increase student achievement, chart their own career paths, recognizes and rewards outstanding work, and helps to ensure that every student succeeds. For City Schools as a whole, the program provides the ability to attract and retain excellent educators, the ability to truly engage teachers in leading the transformation of the district, expansion of excellent instruction across the district’s programs and schools, excellent instruction that leads to excellent student achievement, and entrepreneurial opportunities to support unique student needs.

The Commission applauded Dr. Santelises and the teacher career pathways program, which could be part of the Commission’s recommendations for attracting and retaining high-quality teachers in Maryland.

The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission. MACo is entitled to two representatives on the Commission, under the legislation.

Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Chair, and Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Vice Chair, represent MACo on the Commission.

The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Monday, June 1, 2017; 9:30 am-5:30 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

For more information, contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo.

Billions in County Funding Excluded from “Sanctuary” Order Provision

An update from the National Association of Counties provides the details in a California court case and how it affects counties nationwide.

A federal district judge granted a national preliminary injunction against the Trump Administration’s January 25th Executive Order’s sanctuary penalties. In additional, statements made during oral argument have indicated that the sanctuary penalties would be limited to affecting only certain grant programs.

Screenshot 2017-04-26 16.17.45From the National Association of Counties:

. . . the January 25 Executive Order on Interior Enforcement, and specifically its “sanctuary jurisdictions” provision, was challenged in federal court shortly after its signing. Late yesterday, a federal district judge granted a national preliminary injunction against the order’s sanctuary penalties in a joint ruling addressing complaints from San Francisco and Santa Clara County, Calif.

The Department of Justice’s statements in oral argument indicated that the executive order applies only to the three federal grants that have some existing requirement of compliance with 8 U.S.C. 1373. Those are:

  1. Byrne JAG grants,
  2. SCAAP, and the
  3. COPS program.

According to NACo’s coverage, the court stated that,

“[DOJ] disavowed any right through the [executive order] for the government to affect any other part of the billions of dollars in federal funds the counties receive each year.”

NACo also predicts that the appeals in this case could mean that it continues to be litigated for years. As reported by NACo,

The Administration can appeal this order for a preliminary injunction, or wait for a ruling from this court on the merits of the case. In either scenario, an appeal to the court’s rulings would be heard by the Ninth Circuit, and if there are further appeals, by the Supreme Court. This morning, President Trump expressed his intention to appeal this case to the Supreme Court if necessary, although it was unclear whether such an appeal would relate to the preliminary injunction ruling or an upcoming ruling on the merits of the case.

For more information, read the court’s preliminary injunction.