The Baltimore County Council passed a resolution on Tuesday to move the time of council work sessions from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, and Republican Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, voted against the resolution, but the time change received bipartisan support.
Republican Councilmen Wade Kach and David Marks, from Cockeysville and Perry Hall, respectively, along with Pikesville Democrat, Councilman Izzy Patoka, sponsored the resolution which originally sought to change the start time for the council’s work sessions from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
The councilmen said they sought the time change in order to provide more opportunity for the public to participate, but compromised on an amendment the council agreed upon earlier this month which amended the time to 4:00 pm.
Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, said she would be “voting for it reluctantly,” but said she would vote in favor of the time change since the votes were already there to pass it.
But she said that she would be “paying attention to the heads in the room,” during work sessions moving forward and noted that her constituents did not contact her about the time change. “We are going to look back at this and think it’s a mistake,” Bevins said.
Councilman Tom Quirk, an Oella Democrat, agreed to disagree and asked to call the vote. Quirk voted to approve the modified time.
Councilman Jones said he received overwhelming opposition to the bill. He said that by moving the work session to 4:00 pm it would be eliminating the opportunity for public participation for those who work from 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm.
“I think we will be moving in the wrong direction,” Jones said. “I appreciate my colleagues wanting to become more transparent, but I think we will be becoming less transparent.”
Councilman Crandell said he thought the time change would be a “deterrent” to people attending the meetings and questioned the motives of council members who were in favor of it.
“I think there are agendas at work here that have nothing to do with transparency,” Crandell said. “What in the world are we fixing? What is the problem that we have? There hasn’t been one bill that we haven’t received input on.” He said he could not see how moving the meeting two hours later would make any difference.
Councilman Patoka took issue with earlier meeting comments made which he said singled out senior citizens as not wanting to attend meetings if they were moved to the later time.
He said that they were made to look as if the older crowd was “frail and incapable…70 is the new 50,” Patoka said.
Patoka said that he preferred moving the meeting to 6:00 pm, but agreed to the compromise since it still could allow more people to testify prior to the council voting on important issues. “Testifying after a bill has been voted on is not transparent,” Patoka said.
The Tuesday afternoon work sessions involve discussion and a chance for the public to weigh-in on issues often just one week before the council typically votes on them during its following Monday night legislative sessions that take place at 6:00 pm.
But Jones said he preferred the balance of an afternoon work session and evening legislative session since it allowed those with different work schedules to participate. And he called the resolution a “political football,” used so council members could boast that they “changed the work session.”
After the vote passed, Jones said, “Sad day for the citizens.”
Councilman Wade Kach said he received over 100 letters in response to the resolution. Tuesday was the second time Kach has attempted to move the work session time, having tried unsuccessfully in 2017.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski, a Democrat who campaigned on his desire to see the work session time changed in order to allow for more public participation, released a statement following the vote, stating that he was happy with the council’s decision.
“The best governments are transparent, accessible, and connected, and I’m proud of the significant strides my administration has already taken to open Baltimore County government like never before,” Olszewski said. “I’ve long championed moving the start time of public meetings so that they are more accessible to the public, and I applaud the County Council for moving forward with this reform.”
The new meeting time will take effect on July 1. All meetings are live streamed. Archives are available online here.