Do This Today: Protections Against Identity Theft

Maryland’s Attorney General shares simple steps that every county citizen can take to reduce the chances of identity theft, one of the fastest growing crimes in the country.

In a panel at MACo’s Summer Conference, Attorney General Brian Frosh, Deputy Comptroller Sharonne Bonardi, and AARP Maryland Advocacy Director Tammy Bresnahan spoke about identity theft and shared examples from their own lives and work.

The Honorable James N. Mathias, Jr. Maryland Senate, moderated the panel, and shared a story of his friend’s mother who had recently been the victim of costly identity theft.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh recounts his personal experience with identity theft, stating, “If they can steal the Attorney General’s identity, they can steal yours.”

The Attorney General shared the work of his office in helping victims of identity theft, but focused on preventative tips. Advice from the Attorney General included:

  • Freeze your credit and your children’s credit.
  • Shred financial documents before you throw them away.
  • Sign up for the do-not-call list.
  • Check your credit regularly.
  • Use strong passwords and change them frequently.

Deputy Comptroller Bonardi described their use of geospatial analytics to look for trends that lead to fraudulent tax preparers. She also spoke about the need for the Taxpayer Protection Act, legislation that her office will introduce this year. Bonardi also shared a quiz that the Comptroller’s Office will be using to test the identity of those preparing tax returns when the returns look suspicious.

Tammy Bresnahan of AARP Maryland spoke about the AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, an information resource for the public. She described typical techniques used by con artists, and even played tapes from phone calls by con artists seeking to steal identities of vulnerable adults, including older adults.


Medical Cannabis Update at #MACoCon

Attendees to the 2016 MACo Summer Conference heard an update on medical cannabis at the “Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission: Questions and Answers for Public Officials” on August 20.

2016 MACo Summer Conference - Medical Cannabis Panel 1
Delegate Peña-Melnyk (L) introduces Jameson (Center) and Taylor (R)

Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission Executive Director Patrick Jameson and Ex Officio Commission Member Allison Taylor responded to audience questions about the status of the application process for medical cannabis growers, processors, and dispensaries. Jameson stressed in his introductory remarks that the goal of the Commission is to “deliver safe and effective medicine.”

Responding to a question about local zoning, Jameson noted that counties can do whatever local zoning they want to, regardless of where the state is at in the application process. He also stated that because the cannabis is a medical product, it is not taxed by the state. Multi-state operations are allowed but all product must stay within the state, he explained. Jameson also said the State plans to implement a “seed to sale” tracking system for any medical cannabis produced in the state. Finally, Jameson cautioned that dispensary applications are still under review and preliminary approvals will not be released until September or October.

Taylor responded to questions about the scoring process the Commission used in reviewing applications. The review process was “double blind” and largely set by the General Assembly.

Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk moderated the session.

2016 MACo Summer Conference - Medical Cannabis Panel 2
(L to R) Jameson and Taylor responding to audience questions

A Careful Walk on the Path to Telework

At an educational session at MACo’s Summer Conference, attendees heard how county governments can avoid issues when implementing telework policies.

The Honorable Eric G. Luedtke, Maryland House of Delegates moderated the session, which included panelists Joe Adler, Senior Consultant, Segal Consulting and Rhonda Weaver, County Attorney, Charles County. Both panelists have worked in several Maryland counties on telework and other employee policies.

Adler described the needed elements of a telework policy, and shared a survey of current county government telework programs.

Weaver described how worker’s compensation benefits apply to telework (hint: they do!) and gave advice on how to write a policy that protects the employee and the employer in the case of telework.

Charles County Attorney Rhonda Weaver shares examples of what not to allow in a telework policy.

Weaver suggested the following elements be included in a policy:

  • A definition of the employee’s work space at home or offsite
  • A clarification that housework, home repairs, and child care are not included in telework
  • The list of employees who are eligible for telework
  • The processes for requesting and terminating telework

For more information, contact the speakers, Rhonda Weaver and Joe Adler.




Cybersecurity Panels Shares a Network of Resources

In a General Session at MACo’s Summer Conference, experts in cybersecurity from the Department of Homeland Security and the Maryland Department of Information Technology joined the Technology Services Director of Calvert County and private sector representatives to give insights into how counties can make progress toward better cyber protection.

Congressman Ruppersberger spoke about the vulnerability of the nation’s grid systems in his introduction to a MACo session on cybersecurity.

The Honorable C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, U.S. House of Representatives gave introductory remarks and moderated the panel.

The panelists focused on free and cost-effective ways to improve security at the local level including employee training and use of state and federal services.

Kevin Moran of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center Partner Liaison spoke about the free services available to county governments that join MS-ISAC. To join, contact Kevin.

Charles Ames, Director, Statewide Security Services, Maryland Department of Information Technology spoke about how the State can help county governments assess their system and develop a strategy.

Sandy Vandebult, Chief Information Officer of KnowBe4, Inc. shared how his business gives users the experience of recognizing a real phishing email through training.

Joe Klausner, Technology Services Director, Calvert County Government spoke about the value of having a champion of cybersecurity among your county IT staff to lead the charge on cybersecurity. Klausner emphasized the need for integration of cybersecurity into the county’s work, stating,

Cybersecurity should not be bolted on; it should be built-in.

Brian Hubbard, Founder, Evolved Cyber, Member, Cybersecurity Association of Maryland Inc., described how to make employees stakeholders in a cybersecurity program, counseling that cybersecurity is a cultural issue within one’s organization.



Partnership Is the Most Critical Piece of Tomorrow’s 9-1-1

There’s only one way to attain the enhancements key to providing mobile phone users reliable 9-1-1 call answering: through collaboration between state and local governments.

Not surprisingly, the majority of calls received by 9-1-1 answering points now come from mobile phone users. What may be surprising, however, is the amount of renovation required to update current 9-1-1 systems so that they may accurately and expeditiously handle mobile calls and potentially data communications such as text and video.

The “Next Generation 9-1-1” services will be an enhancement for public safety, but as became clear in a recent session at the MACo Conference, this transition will not be possible without state-local collaboration and additional investment.

County representatives plead for immediate and coordinated efforts to improve 9-1-1 services.

Delegate Anne Healey,  Chair of the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee and Member of the Environment and Transportation Committee moderated the discussion of national 9-1-1 experts, and local GIS and communications specialists.

Trey Forgety, Director of Government Affairs of the National Emergency Numbers Association, Scott Roper, Executive Director of the Maryland Emergency Number Systems Board, and Kenny Miller, Regional Public Safety GIS Team Lead, Michael Baker International shared national and state perspectives on the issue. Forgety spoke about how 9-1-1 services need to evolve alongside changes in carrier, and Roper described how one regulated 9-1-1 provider is now becoming many unregulated providers as citizens move to mobile networks as their main phone lines. Miller stated that the technology transition means that local public safety answering points, not carriers, will be responsible for managing location data.

Tony Rose, Chief of Fire and EMS Communications, Charles County, Chair of National Capital Region 911 Directors and Jack Markey, Emergency Manager, Frederick County, provided a local perspective. Rose emphasized the importance of 9-1-1 as a connection to citizens, calling it a social contract between government and residents. He also pointed to the importance of the GIS piece in the transition.

All of the speakers described a need for collaboration to make the new system work. The system will rely on creation of boundaries in GIS systems, and without communication between parties on either side of a boundary, whether it is across state or county lines, the system cannot assure full coverage. Frederick County Emergency Manager Jack Markey described the role emergency management can play in coordinating the transition.

All speakers shared the many unknowns with regard to the transition to Next Gen 9-1-1. As Rose stated,

What is most concerning to me is what we haven’t thought of yet.

MACo’s Emergency Managers’ Affiliate has assembled a work group on Next Generation 9-1-1. For more information on this topic, contact Robin Clark at MACo.



Rising to the Surface in School Construction

As counties and the State’s 21st Century School Facilities Commission study school construction, a few topics emerge as focal points for change.

At this year’s MACo Conference, Chair of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, Martin Knott, and MACo’s representative to the Commission, Jan Gardner shared insights into school constuction in a panel moderated by Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Chair of the Appropriations Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates.

This past year, MACo sought strong and smart funding for school construction as a top legislative initiative. MACo represented the interests of counties seeking to expand their school facility capacity for more students, and those in need of funding to update aging infrastructure. For 2017, counties received continued support for school construction in the State budget and are participating in discussions regarding how to make the most effective use of school construction funding.

maggie and martin modern
School construction is one of the most important issues facing the State, as described by Chairwoman McIntosh.

In the session titled, To Boldly Go. . . Toward Better Modern Schools, Delegate McIntosh introduced the subject and gave an overview of the two major statewide studies underway currently, the Study of Adequacy of Funding for Education in the State of Maryland and the 21st Century School Facilities Commission.

Chairman Knott then described the charge of the Commission, and shared feedback from the meetings the Commission has held so far. The Chairman announced that the Commission would continue beyond the date initially set-out for its final report this December, indicating that while the Commission will release a report at that time, there will be more work to be done.

Ideas that are rising to the top of discussion of the Commission, according to Chairman Knott, include:

  • Prototype designs for schools
  • The school construction timeline, including the points at which contractors are involved in the process
  • Value-engineering incentives
  • The State Department of General Services’ involvement with school construction

Knott emphasized his interest in county input into the Commission. As he said,

The rubber hits the road in the counties, at the local level.

County Executive Gardner spoke from the perspective of a county representative on the Commission and also shared information from the work of a Frederick County task force she has charged with reducing school construction costs.

jan modern
“School investment lifts all boats,” County Executive Jan Gardner stated in describing the effect of school construction on families, property values, and businesses.

Gardner began with some background – while the state and the counties have met the school construction investment goals set by the 2004 Kopp Commission on school construction, investments have fallen short of needs because of rising school construction costs.

Gardner shared a several ideas for reform of the school construction program that could create cost savings for counties. A few ideas include:

  • Revise prevailing wage regulations to reduce the paperwork and penalties that scare off small contractors from bidding on projects
  • Create a state standard for green building to reduce the costs and administrative burdens of complying with the LEED program
  • Develop incentives for innovative design and construction and value-engineering, such as allowing local boards of education to share in cost-savings that would otherwise only revert to the State.

Following the presentations, the audience asked questions regarding funding for systemic preventative maintenance, solving workforce shortages, and ways to tie school construction into new infrastructure development.

Both Knott and Gardner invited additional input into the work of the Commission from county governments. To provide suggestions to the Commission, contact Robin Clark at MACo.

The October 13 meeting of the Commission will focus on funding needs.

Local Officials Discuss Pros, Cons of Pokémon Go at #MACoCon

imgresThe opportunities and challenges that Pokémon Go presents to local governments inspired a spirited discussion at #MACoCon. The “Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Pokémon Go and the public” panel addressed the pros and cons of the megahit smartphone application.

Only one month after its launch, Pokémon Go is still creating a buzz across Maryland. Melissa Joseph Muntz, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for “Visit Frederick,” says more people have downloaded Pokémon Go than Google Maps. Muntz added that “millennial visitors are actually willing to change their travel plans based on where Pokémon Go is popular.”

Muntz spoke about how counties can utilize the game to boost tourism. “It’s encouraging people to get outside, to visit historic sites that they’ve never seen before.” Mike Riley, Director M-NCPPC – Montgomery Parks, said county parks have seen an uptick in foot traffic, but that many Pokémon Go players seem more interested in catching digital monsters than taking in their surroundings.

Riley added, “The kids are getting outside. They are exercising. They are socializing. So now that we have the kids out there, we are focused on how to make sure their eyes are open to the other opportunities they can benefit from visiting the parks.”

Major Kenneth Calvert of the University of Maryland Police Department talked about the challenges the game presents to law enforcement and public safety. According to Major Calvert, “What happens to people when they play the game is that they lose situational awareness. They become prey for these people who are looking for fast cash, and an iPhone is a fast cash these days, so that’s the challenge for us.” Major Calvert advised players to travel in groups and remain aware of their surroundings at all times.

The session was moderated by Talbot County Councilwoman Laura Price.

The 2016 MACo Summer Conference was held August 17-20 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year the conference theme was “Cyber Solutions: Counties in the Digital Age.”

2016 #MACoCon Panel Tackles the Mental Illness Crisis in Jails

2016 MACo Summer Conference - Mentally Ill & Incarcerated Panel
From L to R: Kathryn Farinholt, Terry Kokolis, Delegate Erek Barron, and Francesca Berger

Attendees to the 2016 MACo Summer Conference confronted the crisis of the mentally ill in jails during the “Mentally Ill and Incarcerated: A Criminal Justice Crisis” panel on August 19.

Anne Arundel County Department of Detention Facilities Superintendent Terry Kokolis outlined the severity and challenges represented by incarcerating the mentally ill. He stated that the mentally ill are overrepresented in corrections population nationwide and often have concurrent substance abuse issues. Kokolis also discussed the liability associated with the jailed mentally ill, including increased chances of suicide and abuse by fellow inmates. He noted that some local jails are unable to have a psychiatrist onsite and have relay on tele-psychiatry – a less than ideal solution.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Maryland Executive Director Kathryn Farinholt explained the demographics of the mentally ill in the prison population, noting that 24% of inmates have a serious mental illness nationwide. She stated that jails are typically the largest mental health facility in a county. She also stressed the cost savings to jails – both in jail bed space and stress and injury to corrections officials – by removing the mentally ill from the jail setting.

Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) Director of Advocacy Francesca Berger explained ways to intervene before the mentally ill enters the law enforcement system and jail. She noted that while people used to be treated in state psychiatric facilities, they are now dispersed through jails, homeless shelters, nursing homes, and other facilities because community treatment options never materialized. She cited a TAC report that found 4 million adults have an untreated severe mental illness and that such individuals are 16 times more likely to be killed when stopped or approached by law enforcement. Berger stress the need for better officer training and pre-crisis diversion through assisted outpatient treatment programs (AOTs). She stated that Maryland and Connecticut are the only two states without at least a pilot AOT or a reasonable alternative.

Maryland Delegate Erek Barron moderated the panel. Siemen’s Industry, Inc. sponsored the panel.

Drones Fly at #MACoCon

The new Tech Expo at the 2016 MACo Summer Conference began with a session and demonstration on drones on August 17. In “Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No – It’s a Drone!” county officials heard from several Aviation Systems Engineering (ASEC) personnel on the benefits, challenges, and possible county applicable uses of drones over a boxed lunch.

2016 MACo Summer Conference - Kavon on Drone Panel
Brent Kavon discusses the macro benefits of drones

ASEC Director of Commercial UAS (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) Brent Kavon discussed: (1) the new Federal Aviation Administration requirements for drones that will take effect August 29; (2) Maryland’s drone laws; (3) drone technology, sensor, and operational considerations; and (4) how to start up a drone program. Kavon stressed that drones can assist in project review, building and bridge inspection, public and fire safety, tourism promotion, geographic information system (GIS) mapping, and ecological monitoring (habitat health, algae blooms, invasive species tracking, etc.).

As a demonstration, ASEC Business Development Manager Bryan Barthelme briefly flew a drone with a camera that captured the audience and streamed it live to Youtube.

The session was moderated by St. Mary’s County Commissioner John O’Connor.

Congressman Van Hollen, Attorney General Frosh Address Diversity Caucus at #MACoCon

The Maryland County Officials Diversity Caucus heard from United States Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh at the 2016 MACo Summer Conference on August 18.

In his opening statements, Howard County Council Member Calvin Ball stressed how much the caucus has grown over the last several years. Former Maryland Delegate Melony Griffith then provided an update on a pledge card effort for supporting local health centers or initiatives. Griffith noted that almost everyone filled out a pledge card last session and several signees described their successful efforts. Prince George’s County Council Member Mel Franklin highlighted the legislative initiatives of the caucus: (1) economic development; (2) job creation; (3) minority business participation; (4) criminal justice reform; and (5) environmental justice and social justice issues.

Van Hollen urged the caucus to continue in its direction and work, stating, “I believe firmly that we have to break down the barriers between local governments, state governments, and the federal government.” He argued that constituents typically do not make or care about such distinctions. Van Hollen also recognized the “strength that diversity brings” to the state, noting the creation of the Harriet Tubman state park in Dorchester County.

2016 MACo Summer Conference - Diversity Caucus
Brian Frosh Addressing the Diversity Caucus

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh also addressed the caucus. Frosh stressed that cooperation was essential in producing positive outcomes and highlighted a successful multi-law enforcement agency effort to shut down human trafficking ring that was operating in Prince George’s County and elsewhere. He The enforcement action included multiple law enforcement agencies. Frosh also provided an overview of actions his office has recently taken against debt collection agencies, payday lenders, buyers of structured settlements, and illegal moving company practices. Noting the recent United States Department of Justice findings against the Baltimore City Police Department, he urged all law enforcement agencies in the state to adopt his office’s guidelines on officer conduct.